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NATURE: Snow Chick

Airs Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016 a 8 p.m. on KPBS TV

Emperor penguin chick walking, Antarctica.

Credit: Courtesy of Marty Passingham/© John Downer Productions

Above: Emperor penguin chick walking, Antarctica.

During two months of blizzards and frigid temperatures dipping to -80 degrees, each male Emperor penguin who breeds in Antarctica must nurture and protect a single egg that harbors his offspring. But once the eggs hatch by midwinter, these dads are ready to move on to their next stage of parenting. "Snow Chick" imagines the story of the youngest and last chick of the colony to emerge from his shell and the challenges he encounters growing up in the world’s most extreme nursery. "Snow Chick" is narrated by actress Kate Winslet.

The program follows the ups and downs of what this littlest chick experiences during the first six months of childhood starting from birth through a chick’s journey to the sea. Emperor penguins are the only animals to breed in the Antarctic winter, and keeping the chick warm and fed requires round-the-clock attention from both parents. As the film shows, while one parent keeps a watchful eye on the growing chick, the other is at sea catching fish to store in its stomach before making the 60-mile trek back to the colony so it can feed its hungry child. Although the program focuses on the chick’s adventures, it also relates many of the obstacles the parents must overcome when trekking back and forth across the sea ice to provide this needed nourishment.

"Snow Chick" tracks the youngster as he follows his mother to learn how to maneuver on the ice and gain confidence walking on his own two feet. It also illustrates what happens when he starts venturing farther afield and his mother loses sight of her plucky offspring. The chick is shown having to dodge the advances of those penguins who failed to breed, whose strong mothering instincts cause them to try and snatch someone else’s child. And as he grows too big to fit into either parent’s pouch, they practice a bit of tough love to persuade their adolescent to socialize with the other chicks and be accepted in their small protective huddles.

The camera captures Snow Chick’s development as he becomes more independent, learns to be on the lookout for predators, and deals with the spring arrival of another penguin species, the feisty Adelies, who want to take over the Emperors’ breeding ground. The saga of the youngest chick concludes as he and the rest of his gang instinctively know that childhood is over and it’s time to head to the sea. That’s where Snow Chick will spend the next four years until returning, like his parents, to the same spot to breed with a partner of his own.

NATURE is a production of THIRTEEN Productions LLC for WNET. For NATURE, Fred Kaufman is executive producer. "Snow Chick" is a John Downer Productions production for THIRTEEN Productions LLC and BBC in association with WNET.

Past episodes of NATURE are available for online viewing. NATURE is on Facebook, Tumblr and you can follow @PBSNature on Twitter.

Snow Chick

During two months of blizzards and frigid temperatures dipping to -80 degrees, each male Emperor penguin who breeds in Antarctica must nurture and protect a single egg that harbors his offspring. But once the eggs hatch by midwinter, these dads are ready to move on to their next stage of parenting. Snow Chick imagines the story of the youngest and last chick of the colony to emerge from his shell.

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