Description & Characteristics:
Humboldt penguins, also known as the Peruvian penguins, are members of the Spheniscus genus, This warm weather penguin lives mostly on rocky mainland shores, especially near cliffs, or on islands off the coasts of Chile and Peru. They do not migrate preferring to reside in temperate waters year round. Although, their principal threat is the activity of man, Humboldts, like the Galapagos penguins, are vulnerable to disturbances in their food chain caused by strong El Nino currents.
Humboldts are most similar to the Magellanic penguins and where territories overlap the two species may be easily confused. From the front, Magellanics have two neck bands whereas Humboldts only have one. Adult Humboldts have a white front and a brownish-black back and head. They also have a white mark circling above each eye and forward around the neck. Like most penguins, which are monomorphic, male and female Humboldts are difficult to tell apart without behavioral clues.
Using their strong wings as flippers, Humboldts 'fly' underwater, usually just below the surface, at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour, taking small fish and krill and eating them whole. They steer with their feet and tail. Their feathers are stiff and overlap to waterproof and insulate their body. Like all penguins, they have excellent eyesight both underwater and on land.
Humboldt penguins are social animals, living in relatively large colonies of closely spaced burrows where communication becomes quite important. Mated penguins are able to recognize one another and their offspring through a combination of sight and voice. Colonies are beneficial because they provide collective defense against predators such as skuas and gulls. The burrows provide safe nesting places in addition to helping regulate body temperatures in the varying conditions of their temperate climate.
Humboldt penguins can breed at any time of the year depending on food availability. Sexual maturity is reached between 2 and 7 years old. Nests or burrows are established in caves, cracks or holes and occasionally in more open sites such as on a rocky shore. Females lay one, two, or three eggs with both parents taking turns incubating them for a period of about 40 days. Chicks are born with greyish brown, downy feathers.
Chick care begins with parents alternating jobs of sitting with the chick and hunting for food. After about two months, the chick is left alone during the day while both parents search for food. Humboldt penguin chicks molt at about 70-90 days with the young fledglings losing their down feathers and replacing them with all grey adult feathers which become darker over time.
Humboldts live approximately 20 years in the wild; up to 30 years in zoos.
- Humboldt penguins are named after the cold Humboldt current which flows along the coast of North and South America.
- These penguins are one of the most timid species of penguins.
- Humboldts often get tangled in fishing nets, or their eggs get trampled by guano harvesters.
- Humboldt penguins have a gland which enables them to drink salt water in addition to fresh water; the gland concentrates excess salt which then dribbles down the bill.
- When food is scarce the parents feed only the larger chick and the smaller chick quickly starves.