Magellanic Penguin – Spheniscus magellanicus

Spheniscus Genus – Banded Penguins
Height: 24-26 in.
Weight: 8.25-14.25 lb.
No subspecies.
Life expectancy in the wild: 10 years.
Approximated Population: 3.75 Million
Population tendency: Decreasing
IUCN Conservation Status: NT


Magellanic penguins belong to the group of banded penguins, which are very similar in appearance and difficult to identify. However, they have distinctive patterns that make them unique.

They have a black stripe that starts at the base of its beak and goes over its forehead, between the eyes up to the head and distributed all over its back, flippers, tail and the lower part of the throat. The face is also black except a C-shaped white stripe that starts at the base of the beak pass above both eyes round the head downwards and joins in the upper part of the throat. Additionally, a black stripe that starts at the back round the bottom of the throat.

immature individuals, do not have the banded patterns.

From the feet to the chest they are white, but a horseshoe-shaped black stripe traverses this area giving the appearance of having two black bands in the upper part of the chest and the throat.

Their legs are pink with black ending with large claws.
On the base of the beak and above the eyes, they have a calloused pink area that helps them regulate their body temperature.

Young, immature individuals, do not have the banded patterns described nor the pink calluses in their eyes. Newborn chicks have a brown and white plumage.

Where do they live?

Magellanic penguins inhabit landscapes surrounded by greenery, edgy land, and cliffs. They can be found mainly in Argentina and Chile, and the largest colonies locate in Punta Tombo, San Lorenzo, Cape Virgenes, Magdalena Island and some in the Falkland Islands. The presence of individuals wandering in areas of Antarctica, Australia, and New Zealand is known.

Skills and Behavior

Magellanic penguins are very social and form groups for some activities such as hunting. They can stay submerged for up to 180 seconds, but they usually do it for two minutes only and can dive to a depth of 151 ft, although the deepest dive recorded is 318 ft.

Their vocalizations are diverse, but one of them is very similar to the braying of the African species. The sounds they produce may be for warning calls, recognition of family members or disputes. During the breeding season, their behavior becomes more aggressive triggering frequent fights between males that cause serious injuries to some of them.

As they live in warm areas, they have unique adaptations like the calloused pink area in their faces that help to regulate their body temperature. Additionally, they take shelter on beach shrubs to avoid the sunlight or extend their flippers to make use of the wind for this purpose.


The pre-molt period usually starts in March and lasts about three weeks when they feed plenty to stock up the nutrients needed to survive during their molting period when they have to stay on land.
Molting lasts about 22 days and during that period they must wisely use their energy, or they could die otherwise; this is why they sleep most of the time and move as least as possible.

Characteristics of Magellanic penguin.

Magellanic penguin cleaning the plumage.

What do they eat?

They feed on a variety of pelagic fish but complement their diet with krill and squid. Colonies in the north mainly eat anchovies, while the ones in the South prefer squid.


Incubation period: 39 to 42 days.
Normal clutch: Two eggs.

The reproduction season varies according to the geographic location of the colony.

Magellanic penguins are monogamous, and the males perform courtship rituals to attract females. Some of them fight each other when both choose the same male.

Using their claws and flippers, they dig dens under large rocks or in wide-open areas and slowly fill the nest with small materials that are within their reach.

Males can use the same nest year after year and find the same female with vocalizations.

They do not keep a lot of distance between nests as other species of the same family; they prefer to stay together to help defend each other against other predatory birds.

Egg laying is very synchronized; all the females of a colony lay them within two weeks. Once born, chicks are cared by their parents and fed every two or three days for 29 days.


Their natural predators are foxes, cats, rats as well as predatory birds.

The main threats of Magellanic penguins are mostly human activities like commercial fishing that deplete their food sources, oil spills, hunting to use them as bait, tourism and human disturbances that also affect nests and settled colonies.

Natural phenomena such as El Niño can disrupt or alter their breeding season and affect the availability of food.

Magellanic penguin range map

Magellanic 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.