The smallest warm-weather penguin, this bird has black plumage with the white colored frontal area as well as white spots around the body. The black head of Galápagos penguin features white markings on both sides of the head, stretching down from above each eye, circling back and descending to the neck. Below these head markings, the bird has a small collar of black colored feathers, fading away towards the back. Then, below this black collar, the penguin has a white streak, extending across the length of the body, in both directions. And finally, the bird has a black band, stretching below and in parallel with the white streak. The feet of Galápagos penguin are dark and the beak is slender.
These penguins inhabit the Galápagos Islands, off the western coast of Ecuador. The species is found along the coastlines of the Galápagos archipelago, but the highest concentration of the penguins is on Fernandina Island as well as the west coast of Isabela Island. These birds construct their nests in sheltered coastal areas. Galápagos penguins can be seen resting on both rocky and sandy beaches.
Due to temperate waters of their range, Galápagos penguins are non-migratory, living in the same area throughout the year. They are social birds, gathering into large colonies, where they hunt together as well as find protection from predators. When the weather gets too hot, the penguins stretch out their flippers to cool off. In order to prevent their feet from getting sunburned on land, they usually hold their flippers over their feet, protecting it from direct rays. At the sunrise, these diurnal penguins leave their burrows, spending their time eating, socializing with members of their colony, caring for the chicks and playing in the water. At the sunset, the birds return back to their burrows by marching.
These birds are carnivores (piscivores), consuming small marine invertebrates as well as all small species of fish, including mullets, sardines, pilchards, and anchovies.
These penguins have a monogamous mating system, forming lifelong pairs. Galápagos penguins mate all year round with a peak period, lasting from May to July. These birds typically build their nests in caves or volcanic-formed hollows, where the eggs can be protected from the sunlight. The female lays 1-2 eggs, which are incubated by both parents during 38-40 days. Meanwhile, if both eggs hatch, the parents will raise only a single chick. During the incubation period as well as after hatching, one of the parents stays with the eggs or hatchling, and the other leaves the nest to forage. For the first month of its life, the chick is cared by both parents, after which they leave the baby on its own, going to sea. Fledging occurs at about 60 days of age. Galápagos penguins are completely independent at 3-6 months old. Sexual maturity is reached at 4-6 years old for males and at 3-4 years for females.
Galápagos penguins are exposed to global climate change. They are threatened by their natural predators as well as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which decreases the amount of shoaling fish, which, in turn, reduces reproduction success and brings to starvation. In addition, the birdsare occasionally drowned in fisheries and suffer from oil spills.
Presently, the population of Galápagospenguin is decreasing, being estimated at 1,200 mature individuals throughout the area of their habitat. For this reason, on the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Endangered(EN).
Preying on a wide variety of marine organisms, the penguins control numbers of these species’ populations in the coastal waters of Galápagos archipelago. In addition, these penguins are important prey species for other marine and avian predators of the area.