Pygoscelis papua

DSC_0218In 2010, the Falkland Islands held the largest breeding population of Gentoo penguins in the world, with an FC census recording 121,500 breeding pairs. Numbers in the Falkland Islands do fluctuate, but have averaged about 100,000 pairs over the last 75 years. Gentoo penguins are resident in the Islands throughout the year and distributed all around the coastline.

This is the second largest Falkland penguin, standing at 76cm (30 inches) tall. It has a distinctive white bar over the crown of the head, a long orange and black bill, a blue-black back and under parts silver-white, and orange feet. It is very inquisitive, although easily scared from its nest if approached to closely by humans, which in some cases can leave the eggs or chicks vulnerable to predation by skuas.


Vital Statisticsgentoo_penguin_with_chicks_Derek-Pettersson-2009

Height:    76cm

Weight:   5 -8 kg

Breeding: Age:  Age:3-4 yrs

Predators: Sea lions are the main predator of adults. Skuas and striated caracaras take eggs and chicks.

There are approximately 85 breeding colonies in the Falklands, although some do move from year to year. There are 17 on the outlaying islands, 32 on mainland West Falkland and 36 on mainland East Falkland. The gentoo penguin breeding sites are some of the easiest and most accessible to visit. The colonies can be up to 5km (3 miles) inland and reached by traditional, often circuitous, routes; known locally as penguin highways. The Gentoo equivalent of rush hour occurs on their 'highways' in the early evenings when many penguins return from the day at sea. Breeding colonies range from 7 to 7000 pairs.

Breeding cycle

gentoo-penguin-chick-chase-Derek-PetterssonBoth female and male gentoos are at the nest site before breeding begins, and take turns to feed at sea. Nest building starts in September using diddle-dee torn from nearby plants, grasses, small stones or even hard lumps of mud. Two large round white eggs are laid in October. Chicks are brooded until they are 3-4 weeks old when they form small créches. The créches become larger as the chicks grow bigger, and eventually the chicks move away from the nesting site and towards the shorelines, often waiting on beaches for their parents to return from sea with food. The young are fully moulted by late January, and ready to go to sea in late February. Gentoo penguin chicks engage in what is known as the'chick chase' (photo left) - where they must chase their parents to get fed. It is thought that this behaviour builds up strength of the chicks and also encourages them to venture towards the sea edge and eventually follow the adult birds out to sea.



Bluff_cove_Ali_Liddle3At sea and diet

Gentoo penguins are inshore foragers and generally do not venture more than 20km from the shores of the Falkland coast. In the summer, whilst raising chicks, they leave on daily trips departing the colony at first light and generally returning from early evening onwards. Gentoo penguins are opportuntictic feeders with great variation in prey ratios between colonies. In the Falklands, they feed on a variety of lobster krill and other crustaceans, but squid and fish (blue whiting) are also important food. In the winter, gentoos remain around the Falklands coast and they may disperse further afield from their breeding colonies.



Studies and Reports

Population change and resilience in Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua at the Falkland Islands. P A Pistorius, N, Huin, S Crofts. 2010 Marine Ornithology 38: 49-53 (

Aspects of the breeding biology of Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua at Volunteer Beach, Falkland Islands, 2001/02.
H M Otley, A P Clausen, D J Christie and K Putz. 2004. Marine Ornithology 32: 167-171.
Available to subscribers of Waterbirds

Winter diet and foraging range of Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua from Kidney Cove, Falkland Islands.
A P Clausen and K Putz. 2003. Polar Biology 26: 32-40.
Available to subscribers of Polar Biology - search Journals for Polar Biology.

Aptenodytes patagonicus

KING_PENGUIN_Aptenodytes_patagonicusThe king penguin, largest of the Falkland penguins, is at the northern edge of its global range in the Falkland Islands. The Falklands population (c.1000-1500 breeding adults) is almost entirely concentrated at one site, Volunteer Point Important Bird Area (616kb PDF), Volunteer Point for visitors, East Falkland. The king penguin is a very handsome bird. It has bright orange ear patches leading to an orange-yellow fore neck, a silver white breast with blue-grey back, and black feet. Juveniles are covered in brown fluffy plumage and often appear larger than their parents. There are more than 1,000 breeding adults at the colony and over 500 chicks are raised each year. King penguins are increasing throughout their entire range. They have a circumpolar distribution and also breed at South Georgia, the Crozet Islands and Kerguelen, Heard and Macquarie Islands. The world population is estimated at 1.2 million. It is thought that the Falkland king penguin population expansion may be due to overcrowding further south at South Georgia.

Vital Statistics

Height: 85- 95 cm (3 ft) Second largest penguin species in the world
Weight: 12 – 15kg (males are heavier then the females)
Age: 20 years
Breeding age:  4-6 years.
Predators:  Leopard seals and killer whales at sea. Skuas take eggs and small chicks.


Breeding Cycle 

The breeding cycle of a King penguin takes more than one year, meaning that they can only raise two chicks in any three year period.

king_penguin_and_chick_M_ReevesEgg period One egg is laid between November and March. It takes 55 days to incubate the egg and the job is shared by both parents.

Small chick Chicks start hatching from Januray.The small chick is never left unattended and both parents share shifts of feeding and caring for the chick

Large chick (March)The large chicks group together in crèches. Both parents go to sea to bring back food for the growing chick.

Winter (April - August) Chicks stay on land for the winter whilst both parents go to sea. Adults return to the colony less frequently and chicks can lose up to 50% of their body weight.

Juvenile Moult (October - November) Parents return after the winter to carry on feeding the large chicks. The chicks begin to moult into their adult feathers.

Juvenile Depart (November - December)The juveniles have full adult feathers and are large enough to fend for themselves and will depart for the sea around November to December.

Adult Moult The adults remain on shore and after their chicks have fledged they moult their feathers (24-30 days). The adults take a year of and will breed again the following year.

Going to sea and diet

King penguins are adept swimmers and divers and spend large periods of their lives at sea. King penguins eat small fish called myctophids or lantern fish as well as squid. King penguins dive deeper than any other penguins diving up to 300m in search of their prey. During the breeding season the penguins forage close to the Falklands, but during the winter they must look further for the food and can travel hundreds of miles in search of food.

Read more about where satellite tracked King penguins go

King penguins at Volunteer Point - a guide for visitors

Pistorius P, Baylis A, Crofts S, Putz K. (2012) Population development and historical occurrence of King penguins at the Falkland Islands. Antarctic Science.

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Population change and resilience in Gentoo Penguibs Pygoscelis papua at the Falkland Islands. P A Pistorius, N, Huin, S Crofts. 2010 Marine Ornithology 38: 49-53 (

Aspects of the breeding biology of the Magellanic Penguin in the Falkland Islands. Helen M Otley, Andrea P Clausen, Darren J Christie and Klemens Putz. 2004. Waterbirds 27 (4): 396-405. Available to subscribers of Waterbirds (

Aspects of the breeding biology of Gentoo Penguins Pygoscelis papua at Volunteer Beach, Falkland Islands, 2001/02. H M Otley, A P Clausen, D J Christie and K Putz. 2004. Marine Ornithology Volume 32: pages 167-171. (

Breeding Patterns of King Penguins from the Falkland Islands. First results. H Otley, A Clausen, D Christie, N Huin & K Putz. 2007. The Emu 107: 156-164. Available from CSIOR Publishing: (Journals – Emu – online archives – Number 2, 2007)

Cephalopod prey of king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus breeding at Volunteer Beach, Falkland Islands, during austral winter 1996. U Piatkowski, K Putz & H Heinemann. 2001. Fisheries Research 52: 79-90. then search keywords ‘King Penguin’.

Re-evaluation of historical Rockhopper Penguin population data in the Falkland Islands. K Putz, A P Clausen, N Huin and J P Croxall. 2003. Waterbirds 26: 169-175. Available to subscribers of Waterbirds (

Rockhopper Eudyptes chrysocome x Macaroni E. chrysolophus Penguin Hybrids apparently breeding in the Falkland Islands. Richard W White and Andrea P Clausen. 2002. Marine Ornithology Volume 30: pages 40 – 42. (

Satellite tracking of male Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes chrysocome during the incubation period at the Falkland Islands. Klemens Putz, Jeremy G Smith, Rebecca J Ingham and Bernhard H Luthi. 2003. Journal of Avian Biology. 139 – 144. (go to 2003, Vol 34, Issue 2).

Spatial and temporal variability in the foraging areas of breeding King Penguins. K Putz. 2002. The Condor 104: 528-538. go to Volume 104, Issue No 3.

Status and Numerical Trends of King, Gentoo and Rockhopper Penguins Breeding in the Falkland Islands. by Andrea P Clausen and Nic Huin. Ref: Waterbirds 26 (4): 389-402, 2003. Available to subscribers of Waterbirds (

Summer diet of king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus at the Falkland Islands, southern Atlantic Ocean.during austral winter 1996. Y Cherel, K Putz & K Hobson. 2002. Polar Biology 25: 898-906. Available to subscribers of Polar Biology (search Journals for Polar Biology)

The Diving Behaviour of Brooding King Penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus from the Falkland Islands: Variations in dive profiles and synchronous underwater swimming provide new insights into their foraging strategies. Klemens Putz & Yves Cherel (2005). Marine Biology 147: 281-290. - then go to life sciences, journals, aquatic sciences, marine biology - /Vol 147, Number 2, June 05.

Winter diet and foraging range of Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua from Kidney Cove, Falkland Islands. A P Clausen and K Putz. 2003. Polar Biology 26: 32-40. Available to subscribers of Polar Biology (search Journals for Polar Biology)

Winter dispersal of Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes chrysocome from the Falkland Islands and its implications for conservation. K Putz, J G Smith, R J Ingham and B H Luthi. 2002. Marine Ecology Progress Series 240: 273-284.

Where does the name penguin come from?

How many species of penguin are there?

Where are the most species of penguins found?

Do penguins spend most of their time in the water?                  

How deep can penguins dive?

Can penguins fly?

How do penguins stay warm?

What do penguins eat?

What are penguins’ main predators?

Do most penguins mate for life?

Do most penguins breed at the same colonies each year?

What are penguin nests made of?

Why do some penguins carry their eggs on their feet?

How do penguins protect their chicks?

What colour are King penguin chicks?

How long does a penguin live?


1. Where does the name penguin come from?

There are several theories. They include:

  • From the Latin pinguis, meaning 'fat' or 'fish'.
  • A name given by Spanish sailors because of the quantity of fat (penguigo) found on them.
  • There is a Welsh claim from the words pen gwyn meaning 'white head'.
  • Not recorded in English before 1588, when it was called the 'pin-wing' with reference to its rudimentary 'wings' – the same name that was applied to the now extinct Northern Hemisphere great auk.
  • Named after a large white rock on an island in Newfoundland known as White Head.

For more detail on the origin of the penguin name go to:

2. How many species of penguin are there?

They are the largest family of flightless birds in the world with 18 species.

Emperor Penguin* Aptenodytes forsteri
King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus
Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua
Adelie Penguin* Pygoscelis adeliae
Chinstrap Penguin* Pygoscelis antarctica
Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes chrysocome
Fiordland Penguin* Eudyptes pachyrhynchus
Snares Crested Penguin* Eudyptes robustus
Erect-crested Penguin* Eudyptes sclateri
Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus
Royal Penguin Eudyptes schlegeli
Yellow-eyed Penguin Megadyptes antipodes
Little Penguin Eudyptula minor
White-flippered Penguin Eudyptula albosignata
African Penguin Spheniscus demersus
Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldti
Magellanic Penguin Spheniscus magellanicus
Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus

* recorded as a vagrant in the Falkland Islands.

To find out about a giant fossil penguin discovered in 2007:

3. Where are the most species of penguins found?

Countries with the most penguin species are the Falkland Islands (5) and New Zealand (8). About 1 million live in the Falkland Islands. All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere. The most widely distributed penguin in the Antarctic is the Gentoo penguin. Only two are restricted to the Antarctic: Emperor and Adelie.

4. Do penguins spend most of their time in the water?

Yes. Some penguins stay in the water for as long as 5 months, swimming thousands of miles. They can even sleep in the water. They come ashore to breed, moult and grow new feathers.

 5. How deep can penguins dive?

The Emperor penguin holds the record for the deepest dive at 535 metres (1,755 feet). King penguins have been known to dive to 323 metres (1,059 feet) and Gentoos 210 (688 feet). Most dive for between 2 and 5 minutes.

6. Can penguins fly?

No. They flap their wings in the water just like flying birds but their wings are too small and their bodies too heavy to fly. Their wings are strong and firm so they act like paddles in the water.

A Rockhopper penguin takes a flying leap into the sea

7. How do penguins stay warm?

Penguin feathers are densely packed over their whole body surface. These provide oily waterproofing which is very important in maintaining insulation against cold and wet. A layer of fat also provides insulation, and can be up to 3 cms thick. This is particularly important for over-wintering King penguin chicks.

8. What do penguins eat?

They get all their food from the sea feeding mostly on krill, squid and small fish. At the peak of the breeding season the 5 million Adelie penguins nesting on Lawrie Island catch 9,000 tonnes of krill and small fish daily. They also drink salty water from the sea and have special glands to remove the salt in a liquid form. It flows down grooves in a penguin’s beak and drips off the end.

9. What are penguins’ main predators?

Gulls, turkey vultures, striated caracaras, giant petrels, sheathbills and particularly skuas take eggs and chicks. It is estimated that a penguin rookery of 100,000 penguins can support only 10 pairs of marauding scavengers. Gulls and ibises in South Africa can devour up to 40% of jackass penguin eggs.

Leopard seals attack adelies, chinstraps, gentoos and rockhoppers and occasionally kings and emperors. There are 100,000 of these animals off the Antarctic coast taking a considerable toll of penguins every year, but penguins can swim faster and often outmanoeuvre them. In the Falklands, sea lions prey on adult penguins near the coasts while Killer whales and fur seals take the occasional penguin too.

Penguins are however most threatened by man. Pollution from chemicals, marine debris, oil spills, commercial fishing and global warming are all affecting their lives

10. Do most penguins mate for life?

Some species do! Penguins that have nesting sites have higher fidelity to their partners as it acts as a meeting location each summer. Some penguins pairs have been known to stay together for 11 successive seasons. A study of adelie penguins estimated the ‘divorce rate’ at 17%. For the king and emperor penguins, birds find new partners often as they do not have nests and instead use their feet to incubate the eggs.

11. Do most penguins breed at the same colonies each year?

Yes, and often return to the same territory within the rookery. The males arrive first to establish the nest site – which may have to be fought over and defended. If separated, they recognise their partner by voice. Holding on to the same next site each year means a good chance that the same partner will return.

12. What are penguin nests made of?

Gentoo penguin nests can be bulky piles of diddle-dee (a low growing shrub native to the Falkland Islands), but where plants are scarce, nests are often piles of stones. Magellanic penguins dig burrows up to 2m (6 feet deep) and contruct nests of diddle dee or tussac grass inside. Rockhoppers and Macaroni penguins just make a shallow depression in the soil.

Gentoos can use more than 1,700 stones to make one nest.

Gentoo penguin nest building
Photo: Alan Henry.

13. Why do some penguins carry their eggs on their feet?

Kings (and Emperors) do not build a nest. Their single egg is incubated beneath a fold of skin, resting on their feet. Incubation here takes about eight weeks.

14. How do penguins protect their chicks?

They form crèches with the young birds gathering together in groups. This behaviour protects the young birds from aerial predation (particularly skuas, gulls, turkey vultures and caracaras). For Emperors crèches are essential to protect against extremely low temperatures.

15. What colour are King penguin chicks?

Unlike their handsome parents, they are covered in a thick brown coat. They need this to keep warm throughout the winter months because they take 10 –12 months to fledge.

16. How long does a penguin live?

Up to 25 years. Individuals have been recorded still breeding at 17 – 20 years of age. Some birds do not join the breeding population until they are 9 years old. A penguin in captivity at Edinburgh Zoo lived to be at least 28 years old.

A range of threats are present to penguins, some can affect all penguin species whereas others are species or location specific. In the Falkland Islands there are few detrimental threats on land. Tourisms, egg collecting without licences and disturbance by researchers are some of the man made threats. Predation of eggs and chicks by skuas and striated caracaras and disease outbreaks are natural threats. Because penguins spend huge periods of their lives at sea, some of the more problematic threats, and those out of our control, are in the marine environment.

Commercial Fishing


Falkland Islands fishery patrol boat. The Falkland Islands Government spends £6m per annum on fisheries protection and research.

Large-scale commercial fishing takes place in Falkland Island waters. It is the mainstay of the Falkland Islands economy with the fishing licence annual income generating about £12m - £15m for the Falkland Islands Government. Further information on the fishery can be found at


Squid fishing vessel (jigger). Squid are caught at night, attracted by rows of very bright lights, which line each side of the vessel.

The main target species are principally squid (Illex and Loligo), and to a lesser extent, finfish including Rock cod, Blue Whiting and Hoki. There are two long-lining vessels, which catch Patagonian toothfish. During the penguin breeding season (November – February) the fishery is closed.

For further information on the jigging fleet seabird interaction see report: Observations of high sea jigging vessels from a Falkland Islands Fishery Patrol Vessel. (513kb PDF). December 2005.

The key concern for penguin survival is that there may be competition for the same species with the commercial fishery. This could reduce the birds’ food supply, and lead to a decline in the population. To investigate and monitor this issue Falklands Conservation, at the request of and with the support of the Falkland Islands Government, have since 1987 undertaken annual monitoring of penguin populations including diet studies and breeding success rates.

Of all Falkland penguins, the Rockhopper penguin has suffered the greatest decline in population over the past century. Recent studies undertaken by Falklands Conservation show that their diet consists of a mix of Euphausia lucens and E. vallentini and juvenile fish (non-commercial). In one of the 3 years of the study only 15% of the diet was juvenile Loligo gahi (squid). Limited data collected in the early 1980's suggests that the prey taken by Rockhoppers was much as it is today. Therefore, commercial species appear to play a negligible role in their diet. It appears that the mortality of Rockhopper penguins cannot be blamed on competition with the fishing industry in Falkland waters.

For Gentoo penguins the story is a little different. Their main prey is lobster krill and rock-cods, with about 25% squid, in particular Loligo gahi of a size that does overlap with the fishery. However, Gentoo penguins generally are not declining and their breeding success rate, which may fluctuate from year to year, does not relate to fishing activity.

Part of the Falklands fishing trawler fleet in Stanley Harbour


Loligo_gahiLoligo gahi

Magellanic penguins do rely on Loligo gahi for about 50% of their diet. They do not appear to be able to digest Lobster krill due to the hard carapace (Gentoos can because they carry stones in their stomachs). In 2002 when numbers of Loligo were very low, Magellanic penguins suffered an almost total breeding failure.

As there is very little data on penguin diet in the Falkland Islands before large-scale commercial licenced fishing was introduced it is difficult to prove that fishing has affected their diet. However, studies have now shown that there is no direct detrimental effect on the penguins in terms of competition for prey. If overfishing of relevant species occurs in future, Magellanic penguins would be the first to suffer.

Further information on the diet of Falkland penguins is available to subscribers of Polar Biology ( (search Journals for Polar Biology) entitled:
Winter diet and foraging range of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) from Kidney Cove, Falkland Islands by Andrea Clausen and Klemens Putz. Ref: Polar Biology (2003) 26: 32-40.
What is out there: diversity in feeding of gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) around the Falkland Islands (Southwest Atlantic) by Andrea P. Clausen, Alexander I. Arkhipkin, Vladimir V. Laptikhovsky and Nic Huin. Ref: Polar Biology (August 2005) 28, Number 9: 653-662.

For diet analysis: Falkland Island Seabird Monitoring Programme Annual Report 2001/2002 by Dr Andrea Clausen. Falklands Conservation. September 2002.

Climate and Oceanographic Change

The Falkland Islands’ penguin population crashes of 1985-6 and 2002 appear to be the result of changes in ocean temperatures by around 2°C, resulting in massive reductions in the availability of prey species. This is further backed up by the fact that the ommastraphid squid Illex argentinus was dispersed over the Patagonian shelf and absent from Falkland waters in these years.

A study by Dr Ian Keymer, commissioned by Falklands Conservation to investigate the 1985-86 mortality, found that Rockhopper penguins in particular suffered from a lack of krill, an important food for them in the breeding season. The mortality coincided mainly with the birds’ post-breeding moult at a time when they are especially susceptible to starvation. It seems possible that the shortage of krill was a sequel to the 1982-83 El Nino Southern Oscillation in the Pacific. This may have adversely affected the krill and other organisms in the food chain by raising water temperature in some off-shore currents where normally these penguins appear to feed.

The reasons for these oceanographic events are largely unknown. A warmer climate may cause the Antarctic ice shelf to melt and colder waters feeding into the Falklands Current could ultimately result in these anomalies.

Further background information is provided in the report summary: A stable isotopic investigation into the causes of decline in a sub-Antarctic predator, the rockhopper penguin Eudyptes chrysocome. (59kb PDF)



An infected penguin suffering from avian pox virus in 2006. Photo: Kevin Schafer.

On remote islands such as the Falklands the introduction of exotic diseases can have catastrophic effects. In 2002 veterinarians from the Wildlife Conservation Society ( of New York, who own Grand and Steeple Jason Islands, took blood samples from black-browed albatross and gentoo penguins and tested these for a wide range of avian diseases. It was found that unlike seabird populations on the coasts of South America, the Falkland Island populations had no antibodies and thus no resistance to the tested diseases. This means that birds may suffer heavily if or when diseases are introduced. Serious outbreaks have occurred in other sub-Antarctic islands notably avian cholera on Amsterdam Island and South Georgia, and avian diphtheria in New Zealand.

In 2006 over 500 gentoo penguins in five separate colonies died on West Falkland from a mystery illness. The virus did not reach East Falkland. The penguins appeared weak and had wart-like lesions predominantly on their feet, flippers and around their eyes and beaks. The illness affected both chicks and adults. Falklands Conservation urgently investigated the outbreak with the result that an avian pox virus was found to be the cause (not connected to bird flu). The report Outbreak of Avian Pox Virus in Gentoo Penguins in the Falklands (134kb PDF) (February 2006) fully describes this event and its implications.

Marine Algal Blooms

Marine/Harmful Algal Blooms (sometimes called ‘red tides’) are highly toxic to birds. They are caused by dinoflagellates, microscopic red phytoplankton which ‘blooms’ under certain conditions covering extensive areas of the sea. These tiny toxic plants are fed on by larger animals, which concentrate the poisonous toxins in their tissues. When eaten by a larger predator, such as a penguin, it can be fatal. Red tide algal blooms have led to temporary closure of several shellfisheries along the Patagonian coast in the Santa Cruz and Chubut provinces.

Between November 2002 and February 2003 many thousand Falkland penguins were poisoned (along with prions, gulls, cormorants, albatross and steamer ducks) by a ‘red tide’ event.

The red algal bloom was observed by a pilot in the west of the Islands, over Queen Charlotte Bay. January 2003.


Dead Gentoo penguin at Fox Bay, West Falkland. Photo: Kevin Schafer.

Some birds were found floating dead in the sea, others showed signs of paralysis followed by death within a day of arrival on land. Islanders reported large numbers of Gentoos coming ashore in a crippled state, unable to walk or even hold themselves upright. The Manageress of Port Howard Lodge Jackie Jennings, said, ‘It is very disturbing, penguins are literally lying on the beach and dying, surrounded by swarms of scavenging gulls’. The picture on New Island was no brighter. The large Gentoo colony at the North End of New Island normally holds 5,500 breeding pairs of penguins. Eye-witness Kevin Schafer reported that there were "only a few hundred birds on eggs left – and that these were being picked off very quickly by great flocks of skuas and caracaras."

Following an investigation by Falklands Conservation with analysis of tissue and stomach samples from penguins and analysis of water samples, the toxins which caused these deaths were found to be dinoflagellates Alexandrium tamarense and A. catenella.



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