In 2005, a young male Magellanic penguin was confronted by a larger male who had just returned from his migration trip. This brute challenged our young protagonist to a duel over a nesting site, and –after a long and well-fought battle — the young male was defeated. Bloody and homeless, he spent days standing in the middle of the tourist trail where he had no shade, no cover, and no nest. On his fourth day without nest and no available one to claim as his own without a fight, he discovered the Penguin Project’s vehicle: a magnificent large white Ford Turbo pick-up truck. This grand, beautiful truck had plenty of shade. Of course, to enjoy the shade you need to be under 2 feet in height, which a Magellanic penguin is. Turbo, as the penguin came to be known, can get under the truck by just bending his head a little. With plenty of shade he rested when he wanted, could see what other penguins were doing without leave the truck, and could watch the comings and goings of us, the researchers at Punta Tombo. The truck became his home.
Several months after he had claimed the truck, we made Turbo an official member of the Magellanic penguin team. We wanted to know if only one penguin was using the truck or several. We caught, weighed and measured him. He was in good body condition and a young male of probably 2 or 3 years of age. His band (#53080) allowed us to distinguish him from all other penguins. Shortly after Turbo got his band, we learned he was the penguin consistently under the truck. Other penguins would go under the truck, but Turbo owned most of the space underneath the truck forcing the other penguins to stick to the edges .
On days when we drove the truck to town we hated to leave him without his “nest”. When we returned we’d see him standing in the open or wandering around the bushes. Sometimes even before the groceries, Turbo would bend down and cluck as he settled in under the truck. Without a mate, he had time on this hands-he started flipper patting the truck exhaust as if that were his mate.
Sometimes, he would come out from the under the truck and walk toward us so we’d bend down and talk to him. Soon, if we left the door to the our house open, he’d march in and stand under the table or walk around for a while before retreating to the outside. He even started “knocking” on the metal door with his bill so we will open up the door and allow him to shuffle inside. Now he spends time with us in the house and courts us instead of the truck. When we have to leave or he overstays his welcome we pick him up and put him outside. Once picked up, he flipper pats the arm of the human as if it his mate. When we leave for the field Turbo will sometimes follow us for several hundred meters, and follows us sometimes into the field. When he sees us in the colony or on the beach he goes out of his way to come over and greet us as if we were a penguin.
We adore his affection for humans, but also hope that, some day, he is able to attract a penguin mate and have many chicks. Turbo is still young. In 2010, we did see him show some interest in other penguins. He gave up the truck as a nest in 2007 and lives in a big large shady bush. In the meantime, he courts us as if we are a potential penguin mate. Walking people to his nest is a common occurrence. He has an excellent nest, so we hope he gets a female penguin in 2013.
The Turbo truck still appeals to young penguins, as does the shade under the trailers. Young penguins clamber under the structures for shade.