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The little penguin that crossed the street



Do penguins run?

I woke up this morning thinking about the Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) which lives on the south coast of Australia and New Zealand. They are the smallest of penguins at around a foot tall. I once observed a series of rafts of them returning to a major nesting area on Australia’s Phillips Island. After sunset, raft after raft of penguins rides in on waves, which from the beach looks like any other waves, until they recede away from the shore leaving behind a dozen or more Little Penguins standing, bellies full, in the wet sand


Go penguin, go!

They move quick. The next wave is coming and they have a long race across the beach ahead of them. They are heading to the cover of the bushes inland where they nest.

Why are they racing? In the wide open beach they are vulnerable. Overhead, gulls circle waiting for the penguin’s arrival, and when they are in the open they repeatedly dive bomb them in attempt to cause them to regurgitate the supply of fish they’re carrying back to their young in the nests.  The wider the beach, the better chance the gulls have of winning a meal.

I was thinking of the Little Penguins and that wide beach, because it is a lot like people on foot crossing some of our streets that are built too wide. Yesterday, I saw a grown man run across a city street despite no moving cars even being close. The instinct was for him to run and this is a learned behavior. He stepped up to the crosswalk, looked both ways, but still didn’t trust what he saw and so became a Little Penguin and bolted across the street.

His action was learned out of an engrained fear of wide, fast streets and the by-product of people in cars cruising unawares at high speeds. Note, there is no need to have ever been hit to develop this instinct  A close call here or there and the perception of safety is damaged. The street becomes a hostile territory where crossing the street always comes with the potential of losing one’s lunch.



Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of writers previously published here or any of the organizations, committees, commissions or other affiliation the authors may belong to, unless so stated.

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