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Magellanic Penguin

Related subjects: Birds

Background Information

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Magellanic Penguin
Conservation status

Near Threatened ( IUCN 3.1)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: S. magellanicus
Binomial name
Spheniscus magellanicus
( Forster, 1781)
Red area shows range

The Magellanic Penguin, Spheniscus magellanicus, is a South American penguin, breeding in coastal Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, with some migrating to Brazil. It is the most numerous of the Spheniscus penguins. Its nearest relatives are the African Penguin, the Humboldt Penguin and the Galápagos Penguin.


A Magellanic Penguin at Argentina's coast

Magellanic Penguins are medium-sized penguins which grow to be 70-76 cm (28-30 in) tall and weigh between 3 kg and 6 kg, with the males being larger than the females.

Adults have black backs and white stomachs. There are two black bands between the head and the breast, with the lower band being in an inverted horseshoe shape. The head is black and has a broad white border running from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joining on the throat. Chicks and juveniles are grey-blue on their backs, with a more faded grey-blue colour on their chest. In the wild, Magellanic Penguins can live up to 25 years, while ages of 30 years have been reached in captivity.

Young birds usually have a blotched pattern on their feet, with this 'blotching' fading as they age. Older birds of over ten years usually have solid black feet.

Like the other species of penguins, the Magellanic Penguin has very rigid wings used to 'fly' under water.


Magellanic Penguins feed in the water, preying on cuttlefish, sardines, squid, krill, and other crustaceans. Since they ingest sea water with their prey, a salt-excreting gland has evolved to filter out the salt.


Adult with two chicks by their burrow in Patagonia, Chile.

Magellanic Penguins travel in large flocks when hunting for food. In the breeding season, these birds gather in large nesting colonies at the coasts of Argentina, southern Chile, and the Falkland Islands, which have a density of 20 nests per 100 square meters. The largest of these colonies is located at Punta Tombo. Nests are built under bushes or in burrows. Two eggs are laid. Incubation lasts 39-42 days, a task which the parents share in 10-15 day shifts. The chicks are cared for by both parents for 29 days and are fed every 2-3 days. Normally both are raised through adulthood, though occasionally only one chick is raised.

Magellanic Penguins mate with the same partner year after year. Males reclaim the burrow from the previous year and wait to reconnect with their female partners. The females are able to recognize their mates through their call alone.

Status in the wild

Patagonian coast

Millions of these penguins still live on the coasts of Chile and Argentina, but the species is classified as "Near Threatened," primarily due to the vulnerability of large breeding colonies to oil spills, which kill 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles every year off the coast of Argentina. The decline of fish populations is also responsible, as well as predators such as sea lions and giant petrels, which prey on both the chicks and the adults.

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