What is a Magellanic Penguin?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

A Magellanic Penguin is a warm-weather penguin that lives around the southern coast of South America. These medium-sized penguins are usually found on the coasts of Chile and Argentina, preferring the temperate waters of the coasts to the icy floes of Antarctica. Severe habitat encroachment has lead to dropping native populations of the Magellanic Penguin, leading many environmentalists to call for increased protection around annual breeding sites.

Squid is a large portion of a Magellanic Penguin's diet.
Squid is a large portion of a Magellanic Penguin's diet.

The Magellanic Penguin is recognizable by its distinct markings: adults have two black ribbons on the neck and upper chest, as well as a white band that curves up from the throat and encircles the eyes. Eyes are typically surrounded by a pink circle. Considered a medium-sized penguin species, most adults are between two and two and a half ft (0.6-0.76 m) in height, with males generally slightly larger than females.

Weight alters throughout the year, depending on the season and the food supply. Magellanic Penguins tend to weigh the most just before their molting season, and can reach up to 16.5 lbs (7.5 kg). During their annual molt, called a catastrophic molt, the penguins must remain on land and fast for about three weeks. Without a heavier weight burden at the beginning of this period, the penguin will usually starve to death before the molting is completed.

Most Magellanic Penguins lay eggs in mid-fall, with chicks hatching in the winter. Nests are buried in bushes and scrub for protection from predators, and the birds tend to stay in large colonies for additional protection. Male and female penguins take turns incubating the eggs for about 40 days, then feed the chicks for at least a month after hatching. Most breeding penguins lay two eggs each season, but may only rear the first hatchling, especially if food is scarce.

Despite a large population in the wild, scientists have noted a distinct and progressive decline in yearly numbers of the penguins. There are several factors that are believed to have contributed to this decline, most of which are human-related enterprises. Oil spills and intentional dumping off the South American coasts are believed to be a major contributing factor; in the early 1990s over 20,000 juvenile penguin deaths may have been related to this practice.

The Magellanic Penguin population is also believed to be suffering due to fishery interests and food competition in their territorial waters. The penguin feeds largely on anchovies, squid, and cod, all of which are fished extensively by humans. Penguins are often caught and killed by fishing nets, but conservationists believe that far more damage is done by the growing lack of available food sources. Though the Magellanic Penguin is still numerous, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed the species as Near Threatened since 2004, due to increasing population decline.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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