Spheniscus magellanicus

Magellanic-Penguin-tim-masonThe Magellanic Penguin is a summer visitor to the Falkland Islands. It is found all around the coastline where ground is suitable for burrowing, particularly in areas of tussac or where tussac previously grew. No accurate survey has been undertaken but numbers are estimated to be about 100,000 pairs, probably less than 10% of the world population. They are not thought to be under any particular threat though are susceptible to disturbance when nesting, to flooding of burrows and pollution at sea.


Magellanic-Penguin7-bMagellanic Penguins arrive in the Falklands in early September and leave about mid-April. They are great travellers reaching as far north as southern Brazil, occasionally reaching Rio de Janiero. In a recent study, one bird travelled 2,661km (1663 miles) in 75 days.

Magellanic penguins have conspicuous black and white bands on their head, neck and breast. Their stout hooked bill is grey and black, and there is pink skin around the eye. Legs and feet are blackish. It is shyer than other Falkland penguins and will rush into its burrow or off to sea if disturbed.

Its local name is Jackass because of its loud, mournful call, resembling the braying of a donkey.


magellanic-penguinMagellanic penguins breed in large or small colonies, burrowing into soft soil or peat on slopes facing the sea. The burrows slope downwards, are up to 2m (6 feet) deep and have a nest chamber slightly higher than the adjacent tunnel floor allowing rainwater to collect away from eggs. Two white eggs are laid between mid-October and mid-November. Juveniles fledge in February and by late April colonies are deserted. Care must be taken when walking through a colony to avoid putting a foot through the roof of a burrow. Magellanic penguins feed mainly on small fish and squid.

Photos: Tim Mason/ Alan Henry

Studies and Reports

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: www.waterbirds.org/journal.htm