Act! Support Our Efforts
Ocean Conservation Marine Life Species Database Education+Careers Projects Contributors Photos Videos News Connect

Gentoo Penguins, Pygoscelis papua

Gentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsGentoo PenguinsContribute Photos or VideoContribute Photos or Video

Description & Behavior

Gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua (Forster, 1781), are another Antarctic penguin species first described by Johann Reinhold Forster, an explorer and naturalist who accompanied Captain Cook on his late 18th century voyages. Gentoo penguins are small birds standing about 80 cm tall and weighing an average of 5 kg. They have black plumage on the back and head with a white band that runs across the crown of the head from eye to eye. They have a bright orange bill and orange feet.

The gentoo is the fastest swimming of all penguin species reaching speeds of up to 36 kph as well as one of the rarest.

World Range & Habitat

Gentoo penguin, Pygoscelis papua, breeding sites are found on sandy or stony beaches on the Antarctic peninsula and around the Crozet, Falkland, Macquarie, Prince Edward, South Georgia, South Orkney and South Sandwich islands.

Although gentoos return to the same breeding area each year, they tend to move their sites away from previous sites because of the guano that accumulates during the breeding season. Some colonies have been observed returning to the same site year after year only to suddenly move to an entirely new site several kilometers away. The reason for these moves is unknown. Colonies are typically small, consisting of a few 100 breeding pairs and breaking into subcolonies when colonies become too large.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, forage close to shore, diving to average depths between 20-100 m, although in some cases they have been recorded diving to 200 m. A gentoo will dive up to 450 times per day to forage. They feed on small fish, crustaceans and squid.

Skua gulls

On land, they have no predators, but skuas (pictured above), gulls and other sea birds will prey on unattended eggs and small chicks.

Life History

Gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, breed in rookeries or colonies and make nests from a variety of materials including feathers, grass, rocks and twigs. Females lay 2 eggs in late October that are incubated by both parents for about 1 month. Although eggs are laid as much as 4 days apart, they hatch within 24 hours of each other. Both parents brood the 2 chicks, alternating daily to feed and protect them. The chicks remain in the nest until they have their adult plumage when they are between 3-4 weeks of age. Adults alternate foraging daily, typically traveling within 20 km of the breeding site. As the chicks grow, they form large crèches (chicks are left in groups while both parents forage). Although chicks fledge around 3 months of age, the parents continue to feed them for several weeks. Following breeding season, gentoos return to the open ocean to forage prior to their annual molting season, which lasts for 2-3 weeks.

Conservation Status & Comments

Because of shortages in gentoo penguin prey around the Falkland Islands, thousands of birds have died of starvation during their annual molting season. Diminished prey availability is likely due to overfishing, however the government of the Falkland Islands has thus far been unwilling to implement fishing bans near gentoo penguin habitat so the future of gentoos in that area is uncertain.

Gentoo penguins, Pygoscelis papua, are listed as Near Threatened A2bcd+3bcd+4bcd (NT) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

A taxon is Near Threatened when it has been evaluated against the criteria but does not qualify for Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable now, but is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future.

References & Further Research

Center for Biological Diversity: Penguins
Gentoo Penguin, Pygoscelis papua - International Penguin Conservation Working Group -
Falklands Penguins Starve to Death - International Penguin Conservation Working Group
The Complete Photographic Guide to Birds of the World, Marcus G. Martin's Bird Photo Gallery -
Gentoo Penguin, Wikipedia
Bird Information Web Site, Antarctica, North America -

Research Pygoscelis papua » Barcode of Life ~ Taxonomy ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species + Database ~ WoRMS

Search for Gentoo Penguins » ARKive ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ Creative Commons search ~ Wikipedia ~ YouTube

Feedback & Citation

Start or join a discussion about this species below or send us an email to report any errors or submit suggestions for this page. We greatly appreciate all feedback!

~^~ surface

Help Protect and Restore Ocean Life

Help us protect and restore marine life by supporting our various online community-centered marine conservation projects that are effectively sharing the wonders of the ocean with millions each year around the world, raising a balanced awareness of the increasingly troubling and often very complex marine conservation issues that affect marine life and ourselves directly, providing support to marine conservation groups on the frontlines that are making real differences today, and the scientists, teachers and students involved in the marine life sciences.

Show your support with a monthly donation today.

With your support, most marine life and their ocean habitats can be protected, if not restored to their former natural levels of biodiversity. We sincerely thank our thousands of members, donors and sponsors, who have decided to get involved and support the MarineBio Conservation Society.