Wildlife producer John Downer and his award-winning team captured the emotional, and often mischievous, behavior of some of nature’s most dedicated parents: Emperor penguins in Antarctica, Rockhopper penguins in the Falkland Islands and Humboldt penguins in the Atacama Desert. Downer used 50 spy cameras disguised as rocks, eggs, snowballs, chicks and life-size penguins to capture this fascinating footage.
Enduring blistering temperatures (-140ºF) and utter isolation, the crew filmed the BBC documentary Penguins—Spy in the Huddle over the course of 330 consecutive days. They also shattered the world record for the longest continuous shoot of Emperor penguins. The spycams “chart the tough challenges penguins face from the moment they emerge from the sea to raising their chicks and finally returning to the water,” Downer said.
The Spy Cameras
Meet the high-tech, fully-feathered spy cameras that infiltrated Emperor, Rockhopper and Humboldt penguin colonies, revealing what it’s really like to be a penguin.
The EmperorCam is a three foot tall Emperor penguin replica. It even lays EggCams that film the low angle details of life inside the huddle. The EmperorCam is also fully operational in the Antarctic ocean where it glides over ice and floats on top of the open water.
This 22-inch Rockhopper doesn’t waddle. It hops over different terrains and pulls itself up after it’s fallen thanks to it’s gyro/accelerometer sensors and a high-resolution vision system. The RockhopperCam’s “brain” is also loaded with 75 pre-programmed penguin behaviors that have 20 degrees of freedom.
The HumboldtCam is a 28-inch, life-size replica of the Humboldt penguin. Nervous by nature, the female lays two eggs in a nest or burrow to protect them from predators. Both parents also take turns incubating their eggs for 40 days. If there’s not enough food, they’ll only feed the largest chick leaving the runt to die.
The Underwater PenguinCam can dive 328 feet and swim at a speed of roughly 5 miles per hour, even in rough seas.
Aside from the ChickCam’s desperate need for waddling lessons, this youngster captures life inside of the brood pouch. The well-insulated camera also films colonial family feuds, from sibling rivalry to child abduction.
The SnowCam is a heavy duty, silent spycam capable of closely filming penguins without causing them to molt. State of the art batteries and terrain tracks keep it running on the arctic’s most frigid winter day.
The EggCam is a life-sized egg replica that can record up to 12 hours of footage. It’s covered by a rugged, weather-resistant shell.
The SnowballCam is a quiet camera perfectly suited for the Antarctic environment. Equipped with a self-leveling high definition camera, it can film on the roll (and even uphill).
Spy Camera Highlights
The spy cameras caught some extraordinary moments from Rockhopper penguins bouncing up a 300-foot cliff to Humboldt chicks shooting vampire bats (and each other) with projectile poo. Here are some of the best clips:
Rockhopper Penguin Cheats with a RockhopperCam
Rockhopper penguins are supposed to mate for life, but this male has been caught rubbing beaks with a RockhopperCam. His jealous mate takes the robotic cheater head-on.
Striated Caracara Films Rockhopper Colony with Stolen EggCam
A Striated Caracara steals an EggCam and films the first ever aerial footage of a Rockhopper penguin colony.
Emperor Penguin Mourns Her Frozen Chick
In this heart-wrenching clip, an Emperor penguin cries over her frozen baby while trying to put it inside of her brood pouch. She’s hugged by another female.
Penguins-Spy in the Huddle: Bloopers (The Waddle All the Way Edition)
In this hilarious clip, Emperor, Rockhopper and Humboldt penguins slip and slide on a variety of different surfaces.
All images are courtesy of John Downer Productions.