Humboldt Penguin – Spheniscus humboldti
Spheniscus Genus – Banded Penguins
Height: 24-26 in.
Weight: 7.75-13 lb.
Life expectancy in the wild: 10-12 years.
Approximated Population: 3,000-12,000
Population tendency: Decreasing
IUCN Conservation status: VU
Humboldt penguins are visibly thinner than other species that store more fat and plumage in their body. They belong to the group of banded penguins and look very similar to the African penguins.
They belong to the group of banded penguins.
They have a black area that starts at the top base of its beak and cover their forehead; it continues between the eyes up to the head, and it is distributed all over its back, flippers, tail and the upper part of the throat. C-shaped white stripes start at the base of their beak and join the white area in the bottom of the throat.
Their chest is white with a thick black horseshoe-shaped stripe that starts from the legs and goes upward to reach the top of the chest and then go back down to the other leg. They may have random black spots on their chest and belly, which are different from each other. Their beak is black with some white spots and a callous pink area all around the base of the beak and reaching their brown with red eyes. Their legs are black and pink with large claws.
Young, or developing individuals do not have the patterns described above well defined, and the color of their plumage is lighter than adults. Hatchlings have soft, thin gray feathers on their chest and light yellow in their bellies.
Where do they live?
Humboldt Penguins are distributed along the coasts of Chile and Peru, keeping their largest colonies in Chañaral Island and Punta San Juan. The climate they inhabit is warm in some areas, and intense sunlight increases their body temperature.
The rocky habitat of those places made them excellent climbers used to perform jumps with both legs balancing themselves with the help of their flippers. They cohabit without problem with larger birds, such as pelicans.
While hunting, they can stay underwater for 60 to 150 seconds.
Skills and Behavior
Humboldt penguins found in Peruvian colonies are sedentary while those in Chile are absent from their colonies from March to August.
They usually stay close to their colonies when diving into the ocean, going only between 5 and 20 miles away.
While hunting, they can stay underwater for 60 to 150 seconds and hardly go deeper than 88 ft, reaching a maximum depth of 177 ft in extreme situations.
Their vocalizations vary according to the circumstance; either to show aggression, recognize family members, courtship or group coordination. Both partners emit a sound very similar to donkey braying and often show nervous behavior when they feel the inconvenience of an unwanted presence.
They are social penguins with peaceful behavior most of the time; therefore they’re also well suited for life in captivity.
Penguins with colonies in Peru molt in January, while those in Chile start in February. The molting process lasts only ten days, but it is a challenging experience for them because of the intense heat of those months, regardless the short time of the molting process, if compared with other species. During that period, they spend most of their time sleeping to preserve energy and keep their metabolism slow.
What do they eat?
Their diet consists of small fish like sardines or anchovies and they complement it with squid. They feature several hunting techniques and stay together as a coordinated group while doing it.
Food availability may be affected by “El Niño” phenomenon making the task much harder for them.
Sexual maturity: 3 years old.
Incubation period: 39 to 42 days.
Normal clutch: Two eggs. Up to 4 per year.
Humboldt penguins can have up to two incubation periods in one year.
After mating, they stay together to take care of their offspring. The time needed by the chicks to break the egg and hatch can last as long as three days. Chicks stay in the nest for three or four weeks while parents take turns to feed them.
There is a high rate of egg mortality for this species due to flooding of nests during ocean storms, accidental breakage, and predation.
One of the greatest dangers they face is the entanglement with fishing nets and the illegal trade either for consumption or as pets.
The loss of their habitat, mining, human disturbance, and predation by introduced animals such as rats, cats, and foxes, also endanger them.
Indirectly, commercial fishing is another threat they have to sort; the high amount of fish caught drastically reduce the food availability for these penguins, forcing them to venture into remoter hunting areas implicitly increasing the dangers they have to face.
Humboldt penguin range map
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
Garcia Borboroglu, Pablo. Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. University of Washington Press, 2015.
BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.