Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin

Spheniscus magellanicus
Population size
1.1-1.6 Mln
Life Span
25 yrs
24 km/h
2.7-6.5 kg
61-76 cm
11.2-16.9 cm

A medium-sized species of penguin, this bird has black back and beak. The front part of the body is colored white. Adult individuals have a symmetrical white stripe, stretching from their eyes, arching on the sides of their head and then joining above their neck. Young penguins can be identified by having a black stripe beneath their neck, while adults possess two stripes. The cheeks of young penguins are covered with white to dark gray markings. Their plumage consists of two layers, until they develop the adult plumage.


The species is native to South America. The Magellanic penguins 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

Habits and Lifestyle

The Magellanic penguins are diurnal birds. They spend most of their time at sea. These penguins are highly social animals, 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. They construct their nests at a distance of about 2 meters from each other. After the breeding season, penguins and their young migrate north, where they practice pelagic lifestyle, living in the open ocean. Compared to other penguin species, the 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

Diet and Nutrition

These penguins are piscivorous birds, feeding in water. Their diet consists of fish such as cuttlefish and sardines as well as crustaceans, including squid and krill. The Magellanic penguins possess salt excreting glands, which filter the sea water, allowing the animals to drink it.

Mating Habits

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

These birds have 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 are sexually mature at 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, 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

On the IUCN Red List, the Magellanic penguin is classified as Near Threatened (NT) with decreasing population. The overall population of these birds is between 1.100.000 and 1.600.000 breeding pairs. Argentina holds the highest number of the species - about 900.000 pairs. Between 144.000 and 500.000 pairs live in Chile and 100.000 - in the Falkland Islands.

Ecological niche

Feeding upon squid and fish, Magellanic penguins control 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

  • These animals 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 for 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.
  • They are able to drink sea water due to having a supraorbital gland, which acts as a filter, removing salt from their blood.
  • They are able to control their bloodstream to their extremities, reducing the amount of freezing blood to a certain degree. However, despite these attempts, their extremities eventually freeze.


1. Magellanic Penguin Wikipedia article -
2. Magellanic Penguin on The IUCN Red List site -

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