Description & Characteristics:
Most abundant of all the world's penguins, the Macaroni is also the largest of the six species of crested penguins. (genus Eudyptes). Macaronis inhabit the maritime Antarctic and subantarctic regions with large breeding populations found on South Georgia Island (5.4 million pairs) and other islands of the Scotia Arc, on Heard Island, Marion Island, Isles Crozet (2.2 million pairs) and Kerguelen (1.8 million pairs), and the Falkland Islands. Though numerous, Macaroni penguins may be threatened by the increasing fishing industry and are vulnerable to oil spills.
Though similar to their crested cousins, Macaroni penguins are larger and can be distinguished by their yellow-orange tassels which originate in a broad band across the forehead meeting right between their eyes. Most easily confused with Royal Penguins, Macaronis have mostly black faces whereas Royals generally have white faces.
Macaronis eat crustaceans (mostly krill), fish and squid. Prey is caught by pursuit-diving normally at depths of 50 to 200 feet, although they have been recorded diving down to 300 feet on occasions. Some night foraging does occur, but dives are much shallower, ranging from only ten to twenty feet in depth. Dives rarely exceed two minutes in duration.
Macaronis breed in summer. Their tightly packed colonies are generally established on flat or rough sloping ground, with nesting pairs often seeking the shelter and protection of boulders or tussock grass. These colonies, which can be immense, raucous affairs, are completely deserted in winter. During the breeding season, two eggs are laid, the first is smaller than the second and is less likely to hatch. Incubation of the second egg is performed by both male and female Macaronis. They each take long shifts warming and guarding the egg while the other is off feeding.
The egg usually hatches within four to five weeks. For the first three to four weeks after hatching, the male Macaroni cares for the down-covered chick while the female brings regurgitated food daily. By the end of this period, the chicks form nursery groups with other chicks called 'crèches' where they huddle together for warmth and protection while the parents are away hunting for food. The parents often do not return to the nest site until just before dark. In about ten weeks the young birds will have grown their adult feathers and will be ready to head out on their own.
Macaroni penguins have several natural predators. Leopard seals, sea lions, and orcas (killer whales) will occasionally take adults at sea, while gulls, skuas, petrels and other shore birds patrol breeding sites for unattended eggs and young.
- The Macaroni penguin was named by early English explorers for its yellow crest feathers which resembled those worn in the hats of young18th century men called 'macaronis'; a label later immortalized in the words of the Revolutionary War song 'Yankee Doodle.'
- Macaroni penguins are the largest of the six species of crested penguins.
- Macaronis usually kick the first-laid egg out of the nest soon after the second egg is laid and only one egg ever hatches; a highly unusual trait for birds but not for penguins.