Magellanic Penguin
Spheniscus magellanicus
Population size
2.2-3.2 Mln
Life Span
25-30 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The Magellanic penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is the most numerous of the Spheniscus banded penguins. Its nearest relatives are the African penguin, the Humboldt penguin, and the Galápagos penguins. The Magellanic penguin was named after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520.


Magellanic penguins are medium-sized penguins. The males are larger than the females, and the weight of both drops while the parents raise their young. Adults have black backs and white abdomens. There are two black bands between the head and the breast, with the lower band shaped in an inverted horseshoe. The head is black with a broad white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin and joins at the throat. Chicks and younger penguins have grey-blue backs, with a more faded grey-blue color on their chest. Young birds usually have a blotched pattern on their feet, which fades as they grow up into adulthood. By the time these birds reach about ten years of age, their feet usually become all black. Like other species of penguins, Magellanic penguins have very rigid wings used to swim underwater.




Magellanic penguins are native to South America. They are found along the coasts of Chile, Argentina, and the Falkland Islands. The penguins migrate north to Brazil, reaching as far as Rio de Janeiro. These birds can live in diverse habitats, including forests, grasslands, bare cliffs, headlands, and islands. Breeding can occur in burrows, on the surface, or under bushes.

Magellanic Penguin habitat map

Climate zones

Magellanic Penguin habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

Magellanic penguins are diurnal birds. They spend most of their time at sea. They are highly social, gathering into large breeding colonies of up to 200,000 birds. During this period, penguins are terrestrial, building nests on sandy shores or rocky cliffs. After the breeding season, penguins and their young migrate north, where they live in the open ocean. Compared to other penguin species, Magellanic penguins are more territorial, using vocalizations to protect the territory from intruders. These penguins are strong swimmers, able to swim long distances. They can frequently be seen hunting in groups, cooperating, and helping each other in catching prey.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

Magellanic penguins are carnivorous (piscivorous) birds that feed in the water. Their diet consists of fish such as cuttlefish and sardines as well as crustaceans, including squid and krill. Magellanic penguins possess salt excreting glands, which filter the seawater, allowing them to drink it.

Mating Habits

39-42 days
60-70 days
chick, nestling
2-3 eggs

Magellanic penguins have a monogamous mating system. Once forming pairs, they tend to remain together for many breeding seasons. Breeding occurs during the period between September and February. The penguins usually form large nesting colonies, building their nests in burrows or under bushes. The female lays 2 eggs, after which both parents participate in the incubation process for 39-42 days by rotation, taking turns every 10-15 days. When the chicks hatch out, both the male and the female care for them, feeding the hatchlings every 2-3 days. Young penguins develop their adult plumage at the age of 1 month. Then, reaching the age of 60-70 days, the chicks are ready to go out to sea. These birds become reproductively mature when they are 2-3 years old.


Population threats

One of the most notable threats to their population is water pollution. Throughout their range, these penguins are threatened by oil spills. Unlike other seabird species, they are not able to detect the presence of petroleum in the water due to swimming low. On the other hand, the commercial fishing industry in the area reduces the populations of fish species they feed upon such as anchovies and other fish. Also, the penguins are frequently entangled in fishing nets. And finally, climatic changes cause reproductive disruptions and lead to food shortages.

Population number

According to IUCN Red List, the total population size of the Magellanic penguin is between 1.1 and 1.6 million pairs, which equates to 2.2-3.2 million mature individuals. About 900,000 pairs breed along the Argentinian coast, at least 100,000 pairs breed in the Falkland Islands (Malvinas) and a minimum of 144,000 pairs and a maximum guess of 500,000 pairs breed in Chile. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List but its numbers today are decreasing.

Ecological niche

Feeding upon squid and fish, Magellanic penguins control the numbers of these species populations. In addition, they are an important source of food for both terrestrial and aquatic predators of their range.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Magellanic penguins demonstrate behavioral adaptations to high temperatures. To cool off, they usually extend their flippers upward, thus exposing more area of their body surface to a breeze. During hot days, these penguins pant like dogs. They also lose the feathers around their eyes, which grow back, when the temperature goes down.
  • The Magellanic penguin was discovered in 1520, during the journey of Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan through South America.
  • Looking for mates, unpaired penguins typically emit a braying call like donkeys.
  • The coloring of the penguins is called countershading, being an ideal camouflage to protect from predators. They have black backs, allowing them to merge with the environment and remain unnoticed by those, looking down from above. Meanwhile, their white bellies merge with the sky and surrounding snow, keeping the animals unseen by predators looking up from underwater.
  • Magellanic penguins can control their bloodstream to their extremities, reducing the amount of freezing blood to a certain degree. However, despite these attempts, their extremities eventually freeze.

Coloring Pages


1. Magellanic Penguin Wikipedia article -
2. Magellanic Penguin on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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