The Gentoo Penguin has a circumpolar distribution. The Falkland Islands hold the largest breeding population in the world according to a recent FC census in 2010, recording 121,500 pairs. Numbers fluctuate but have averaged about 100,000 pairs over the last 75 years. They 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.
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 a total of 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. Penguin equivalent of rush hour occur on their 'highways' in the early evenings when many penguins return from the day at sea. Breeding colonies range from 7 to 7000 pairs.
Both 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.
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.