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Gentoo penguins ready to find love with some rocking romance

It's the season of love for gentoo penguins, a species of bird who have a truly rocking way with romance.

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The birds present potential mates with pebbles to show their love at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland. Source: 1 NEWS

The courting ritual has begun at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland, where the birds are presenting potential mates with pebbles to show their love.

And not any old pebble will do.

"They all seem to have their own preferences with the stones that they like," penguin team leader Laura Seaman told 1 NEWS.

"They'll find a stone that they really like, it's often a nice small, smooth stone... and they'll take that back to their nest site.

"They'll take it back to a partner who they may wish to have, and then hope that gets accepted and put on the nest."

Gentoo penguins gather to choose rocks to present to their mates for the breeding season. Source: 1 NEWS

All's fair in love and war. 

The cheeky birds aren't too fussy about where the stones come from.

"We've got certain pairs who are too good at getting stones. They'll steal them off other birds' nests, they'll take them back to their nest," Seaman says.

Some of them don't stop, piling up their nests until they're overflowing with stones.

Some of the gentoo penguins are better at collecting rocks than others, leaving their nests overflowing. Source: 1 NEWS

At that point, Seaman says they'll intervene to help give some of the more lovelorn birds a chance.

"We'll have to go to their nests because the stones are falling off, and we'll take some of the stones away from them, give them to some of the nests who don't have as many stones."

One particularly exuberant pair with some sticky flippers are Lady and Horse.

"I think [they're] the best at doing this," Seaman says.

"They will steal stones and they just will not stop. They'll keep going."

But while they'll happily steal stones from another penguin pair, the birds draw a line at pinching a potential partner.

Gentoos are largely monogamous. Once they've successfully wooed a mate, they tend to stay together for life.

The romance doesn't stop, each year rebuilding their nests with the hopes of expanding their feathered families.

As for the lovelorn penguins that struggle to impress partners with their pebble-collecting skills, Seaman says the aquarium team will lend a hand.

A gentoo penguin mulls over the perfect rock to give to its mate. Source: 1 NEWS

"We have a pile of stones that we keep, we'll just continue to put more out into the enclosure so that they've got the opportunity to get a few more stones onto their nests," she says.

So far this year, three penguins have already laid their eggs, Seaman says. 

Within the next month, it's expected each pair will have laid two eggs, two to three days apart.

The parents then incubate the eggs for around 35 days before they hatch into fluffy little chicks, growing up ready to woo their own partners with some very pretty pebbles.