Description & Behavior

Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus (Forster, 1781), stand about 70 cm tall and weigh an average of 4 kg. Their head and upper body is black and they have 2 wide black stripes, one under their chin and the other that forms an upside down “horseshoe” shape around their belly.

World Range & Habitat


Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, are found around the Falkland Islands and the coasts of Argentina and Chile. They are an abundant species with an estimated 100,000 breeding pairs in the Falklands alone. Larger populations inhabit Argentina and Chile. Breeding colonies are found from the Gulf of San Matías in Argentina, south to Tierra del Fuego, and north along the Pacific coast of Chile up to Puerto Montt. Magellanic penguins nest in burrows in more sparsely populated colonies than other penguin species. Nest densities are estimated to range from 0.001 to 0.1 nests per square meter. This species prefers offshore islands with tall grasses and vegetation where they can find protection from birds of prey. Although the Atlantic coast of Argentina has less vegetation, it is still home to a large breeding colony.

Feeding Behavior (Ecology)

Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, feed on small fish, squid, and crustaceans. Outside of the breeding season, foraging trips extend as far north as Brazil. During breeding season, foraging is conducted daily to average depths of less than 50 m although dives as deep as 100 m have been recorded.

Magellanic penguins are preyed on at sea by sea lions, leopard seals and orcas; birds of prey such as gulls and skuas prey on chicks and eggs.

Life History

Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, return to colonies in September to form nests and 2 eggs, equal in size, are laid in October. Eggs are incubated by both parents for about 40 days starting around November. Females take the first 2-3 week shift while the male forages up to 500 km away from the breeding site, then the female leaves to forage for the same length of time. When the chicks hatch, parents alternate brooding the chicks for about 1 month while the other forages each day. The chicks remain in the nests until they develop their adult plumage and do not form crèches (small groups of young penguins) like other penguin species. Once the chicks fledge, the parents return to the sea to forage until molting season, which begins in March and lasts about 1 month. Following the molting season, adults return to the sea until September. Females reach sexual maturity at 4 years of age, males at 5 years.

Conservation Status & Comments

Magellanic penguin populations declined in the Falkland Islands when food became scarce due to commercial fishing of squid and fish. Other populations have declined as a result of pollution from oily ballast water released by tankers. An estimated 40,000 Magellanic penguins are killed annually by oil pollution in Argentina.

Magellanic penguins, Spheniscus magellanicus, are listed as Near Threatened A2bcde+3bcde+4bcde (NT) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:

NEAR THREATENED (NT)
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
Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus – International Penguin Conservation Working Group
P. Yorio, P. García Borboroglu, J. Potti & J. Moreno, 2000, Breeding Biology of Magellanic Penguins Spheniscus magellanicus at Golfo San Jorge, Patagonia, Argentina

Research Spheniscus magellanicus @
Barcode of Life ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department ~ 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

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View related species: Animalia Chordata Aves Sphenisciformes Spheniscidae Spheniscus magellanicus