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Humboldt Penguins, Spheniscus humboldti

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Description & Behavior

Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti (Meyen, 1834), are named after the Humboldt current, a cold, nutrient-rich current of water that runs from along the west coast of South America from northern Peru to the southern tip of Chile. Humboldts are a medium-sized penguin with black heads, backs, and tails and a characteristic black upside-down horseshoe-shaped band across their chest that extends down either side of their white belly to their black feet. Their head and face are also black with a white band that extends beneath the chin and over their eyes. They have a black bill with a pink flesh-colored patch that extends to the eyes. Females are slightly smaller that the males. Juvenile Humboldt penguins have a dark gray head and back and a white belly. Humboldt penguins are similar in size to Magellanic penguins, having an average length of about 70 cm and an average weight of 4 kg. Their eyes are reddish brown and their bills are slightly larger than those of Magellanics.

World Range & Habitat

Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, are found on islands and along the rocky coasts of Peru and Chile. A few have been spotted as far north as Colombia.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, take advantage of the nutrient-rich waters of their namesake, the Humboldt current, where they feed on small fish, krill, and squid. They have been recorded diving to depths of 150 m, however the average dive is no deeper than 60 m.

On land, wild dogs, foxes and caracaras prey on adult Humboldt penguins as well as their eggs and chicks. At sea, adults are preyed on by fur seals, sharks, and toothed whales.

Life History

Spheniscus humboldti primarily breed from March-April or September-October, depending on their location. Nests are made of burrows in the sand or small crevices in the rocks. Females lay 2 eggs between 2-4 days apart that are incubated by both parents for about 40 days. Unlike other penguin species where only one egg is successfully incubated, Humboldt penguins typically incubate both eggs, which hatch about 2 days apart. The chicks are fed by one parent until they grow a thick, downy plumage. They remain in the nest for about 12 weeks until they fledge and forage along the coast until they return to the breeding colony to build their own nest when they reach sexual maturity after about 2 years. Like other penguin species, they often return to the same breeding colony where they were born.

Conservation Status & Comments

Humboldt penguins are at-risk of declining food availability due to overfishing, particularly the anchovy fisheries off the coast of South America. This species' population has also declined due habitat destruction following the harvesting of guano for fertilizer; guano is a critical part of the habitat used for nesting. In addition, El Niño-related events in recent years have disturbed the ecosystem of the Humboldt Current by increasing the water temperature, which reduces its nutrient-value and by increasing severe storms that have devastated nesting colonies. These threats have reduced the population size of Humboldt penguins to about 10,000 birds in the wild.

Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, are listed as Vulnerable (VU A2bcde+3bcde+4bcde; C1+2b) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

A taxon is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Vulnerable (see Section V), and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.

References & Further Research

Center for Biological Diversity: Penguins
Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus humboldti - International Penguin Conservation Working Group
Photographs by G. Gerra & S. Sommazzi @

Research Spheniscus humboldti » 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 Humboldt Penguins » ARKive ~ Flickr ~ Google ~ Creative Commons search ~ Wikipedia ~ YouTube

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