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Gregory R. Mann, Ph.D. {ret.}

Magellanic Penguin

“Spheniscus magellanicus”

Magellanic Penguins stand about 70 centimeters tall and weigh an average of 4 kilograms. Their head and upper body is black and they have 2 wide black stripes, one under their chin and the other that forms an upside down “horseshoe” shape around their belly. The Magellanic Penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520. The word Penguin first appears in the 16th century as a synonym for the now extinct Great Auk. When European explorers discovered what are today known as Penguins in the Southern Hemisphere, they noticed their similar appearance to the Great Auk of the Northern Hemisphere and named them after this seabird, although they are not closely related. They are found around the Falkland Islands and the coasts of Argentina & Chile. They are an abundant species with an estimated 100,000 breeding pairs in the Falklands alone. Larger populations inhabit Argentina & Chile. Breeding colonies are found from the Gulf of San Matias in Argentina, south to Tierra del Fuego and north along the Pacific coast of Chile up to Puerto Montt. Magellanic Penguins nest in burrows in more sparsely populated colonies than other penguin species. Nest densities are estimated to range from 0.001 to 0.1 nests per square meter. This species prefers offshore islands with tall grasses & vegetation where they can find protection from birds of prey.

Magellanic Penguins feed on small fish, squid and crustaceans. Outside of the breeding season, foraging trips extend as far north as Brazil. During breeding season, foraging is conducted daily to average depths of less than 50 meters although dives as deep as 100 meters have been recorded. They are preyed on at sea by Southern Sea Lions, Leopard Seals & Killer Whales with birds of prey such as Skuas prey on chicks & eggs. They return to colonies in September to form nests and lay an average of 2 eggs equal in size in October. Eggs are incubated by both parents for about 40 days starting around November. Female Magellanic Penguins take the first 2-3 week shift while the male forages up to 500 kilometers away from the breeding site, then the female leaves to forage for the same length of time. When the chicks hatch, parents alternate brooding the chicks for about 1 month while the other forages each day. The chicks remain in the nests until they develop their adult plumage and do not form crèches (small groups of young penguins) like other penguin species. Once the Magellanic Penguin chicks fledge, the parents return to the sea to forage until molting season, which begins in March and lasts about 1 month. Following the molting season, adults return to the sea until September. Females reach sexual maturity at 4 years of age, males at 5 years.

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