Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

Species:S. magellanicus
Magellanic Penguin
Magellanic Penguin

A Magellanic penguin is a species that belongs to the genus Sphenisciformes. A large crescent of white feathers extends from over each eye to the chin, a black band resembling a horseshoe across the white feathers on the chest and belly, and a small but distinct patch of pink flesh on the face. People confuse adults with African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) because of their similar appearance (both species have a little fleshy patch over each eye).

Or some confuse them with Humboldt penguins (S. humboldti) due to their larger patch that extends from the base of the beak over both eyes. Only on the Falkland Islands and a handful of other islands along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of southern South America will you find the Magellanic penguin.

Still, there are many who have travelled as far as Australia, New Zealand, the Antarctic Peninsula, and Peru. Magellan penguins are named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. However, the species was first seen by Antonio Pigafetta, who was with Magellan in 1520 when he tried to go around the world.

Magellanic Penguin Habits and Lifestyle

Magellanic penguins are birds that live during the day. Most of their time is spent at sea. These penguins are very social animals that live in large groups of up to 200,000 birds where they breed. During this time, penguins live on land and build their nests on rocky or sandy shores.

They build their nests about 2 metres apart from each other. After the breeding season is over, penguins and their young move north, where they live in the open ocean and are “pelagic.” Like other types of penguins, Magellanic penguins are more territorial.

They use sounds to keep other penguins out of their territory. These penguins swim well and can go for long distances. People often see them hunting in groups, where they work together and help each other catch prey.

How Does a Magellanic Penguin Look Like?

The weight of Magellanic penguins changes from season to season. They usually weigh the most right before the moult, which starts in March, because they’re getting ready to fast for the next few weeks. The average weight of a male is 4.7 kg, and the average weight of a female is 4.0 kg.

Moreover, the average length of a male’s flipper is 15.6 cm, and a female’s is 14.8 cm. The average length of a male’s beak is 5.8 cm, and a female is 5.4 cm. Both males and females have feet with webs that are, on average 12.2 cm long for males and 11.5 cm long for females. Both adults and young birds have black backs and white fronts.

Adults have a white band that starts at each eye, curves back on the sides of their heads and comes together above their necks. Adults have two black bands under their necks, while young birds only have one. The patches on the cheeks of children range from white to dark grey. Before they get their adult plumage, young birds have two layers of down.

Magellanic Penguin Feeding Behavior

Small fish, squid, and crustaceans are what the Spheniscus magellanicus eats. When they aren’t breeding, they go as far north as Brazil to find food. During the breeding season, they hunt for food every day, usually at depths of less than 50 m, but they have been seen going as deep as 100 m.

Sea lions, leopard seals, and orcas hunt Magellanic penguins at sea. Birds of prey, like gulls and skuas, hunt chicks and eggs.

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Where Does Magellanic Penguin Live

Magellanic penguins live and breed along the southern coast of South America in the Neotropics. You can find them from about 30° south in Chile to 40° north in Argentina and the Falkland Islands. Some Atlantic Coast populations move north to the Tropic of Capricorn.

Life History

Magellanic Penguin habitat

Magellanic penguins, or Spheniscus magellanicus, go back to their colonies in September to build nests. In October, they lay two eggs that are the same size. Beginning around November, both parents take care of the eggs for about 40 days. The females take the first two to three-week shift while the male goes to find food up to 500 km away from the breeding site.

Then the female goes to find food for the same amount of time as the male. When the chicks hatch, the parents take turns caring for them for about a month while the other goes out to find food. The chicks stay in the nests until they get their adult feathers.

Unlike other penguin species, they don’t form small groups of young penguins, namely crèches. Once the chicks are old enough to fly, the parents return to the water to find food until the moulting season starts in March and lasts about a month. After moulting, the adults go back to the ocean until September. Males reach sexual maturity at age 5, while females do so at age 4.

Magellanic Penguin Reproduction

Magellanic penguins only mate with one partner. Once they pair up, they usually stay together for many years. Between September and February, the birds have their young. Most of the time, penguins nest in large groups. They build their nests in burrows or under bushes. The female lays two eggs, and then both parents take turns taking care of the eggs for 39 to 42 days, switching every 10-15 days.

When the eggs hatch, both the male and the female take care of the chicks. They feed the chicks every two to three days. Young penguins get their adult feathers when they are 1 month old. The chicks are then ready to go to sea when they are 60–70 days old. These birds can start having babies when they are 2 to 3 years old.

Population Threats

Water pollution is one of the biggest problems for their people. Oil spills threaten these penguins everywhere they live. Because they swim so low, unlike other seabirds, they can’t tell if there is oil in the water.

On the other hand, commercial fishing in the area lowers the number of fish that they eat, like anchovies and other fish. The penguins also often get caught in fishing nets. And finally, changes in the weather make it hard for people to have children and cause food shortages.

Magellanic Penguin IUCN Status

According to the IUCN Red List, there are between 1.1 and 1.6 million pairs of Magellanic penguins, which means there are between 2.2 and 3.2 million adults. About 900,000 breeding pairs live along the coast of Argentina. At least 100,000 breeding pairs live on the Falkland Islands (Malvinas), and between 144,000 and 500,000 breeding pairs live in Chile. On the IUCN Red List, this species is listed as Least Concern (LC), but its number is decreasing.


Like most penguins, Magellan penguin spends most of their time in the open ocean, where they hunt for food. Magellanic penguins are birds that fly south to breed on the southern coast of South America and on islands in the ocean nearby. During the breeding season, they spend a lot more time on land because that’s where they lay their eggs and take care of their young. At the end of the breeding season, both adults and young move north and start living in the open ocean, where they can find food up to 1,000 km from shore.

Even though male and female Magellanic penguins will fight to protect their nests, most fights happen between two males arguing over territory. On the breeding grounds, where there are colonies of up to 200,000 birds, and pairs may nest within 200 cm of each other, these fights happen often. When penguin chicks are ready to leave the nest, they go straight to the water in large groups, namely creches. Adults will join them at sea later, and the cold ocean currents will carry them all north.

Magellanic penguins change the way they act to deal with the warm weather. If they get too hot, they can lift their flippers up to increase the area of their bodies.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • To cope with the extreme temperatures, Magellanic penguins change their habits. The common method of cooling off is raising the flippers above the torso. These penguins, like dogs, pant heavily on hot days. When the weather cools, the feathers surrounding their eyes also regrow.
  • In 1520, during the expedition of Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan to South America, the penguin Magellanic was first spotted.
  • Unpaired penguins often make a donkey-like braying sound when they are courting.
  • The penguins’ colouring, known as countershading, serves as excellent concealment. Because of the darkness of their backs, they are able to hide in plain sight from above. Meanwhile, when predators are below, they can’t see the animals because their white bellies blend in with the sky and the snow.
  • They are able to do this because of a supraorbital gland that functions as a filter, washing the salt out of their blood when they consume seawater.
  • They can regulate blood flow to their extremities, limiting the amount of cold blood flowing to the skin. But in spite of their best efforts, their limbs will soon freeze solid.

FAQs: Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin
Magellanic Penguin

What Is Special About Magellanic Penguins?

The Magellanic penguin is one of 18 different species of penguins and is distinguished by its black upper body and white underbelly, a countershading strategy that aids the bird in avoiding aquatic predators. A penguin’s black back blends in with the ocean’s deep blue, and their white bellies do the same when one view from above while hiding from predators.

How Many Magellanic Penguins Are Left In The World?

The global population is between 1.1 and 1.6 million pairs, or 2.2 and 3.2 million mature individuals.

Are Magellanic Penguins Named After Magellan?

The Strait of Magellan takes its name from the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who in the mid-1500s became the first person to sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean through this passage.

Where Are Magellanic Penguins Found?

Some Magellanic penguins have been spotted in Peru, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and the Antarctic Peninsula.

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