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Magellanic penguins are found across coastlines along South America on both the Atlantic and Pacific shores. They can sustain hot and cold temperatures. Like all penguins, tightly packed feathers and fat keep them insulated. To cool off during the heat of the South American summer, Magellanics spend more time in the water, and can also pant like a dog and stand with their flippers extended to catch a breeze.
These noisy sea birds sound a bit like donkeys. Males bray to advertise their nests and attract females. During breeding season, they gather in large colonies that can number as many as 400,000 birds. They are the only penguins to breed on the Patagonian mainland.
Magellanic penguins can swim up to 15 miles per hour when chasing after prey. They eat small fish, crustaceans, krill, and squid. During the breeding season, the parents go out to feed in the morning and return in the evening. The rest of the year, getting a good meal means following the currents stocked with fish for hundreds or even thousands of miles.
Breeding season lasts from September through February. The penguin couples dig burrows for their nests, or hide their nests under shrubs if they live on rocky shores. They pack vegetation into their nest, raised just a little above the burrow floor in case of flooding. A pair may use the same burrows for years. Females usually lay two eggs that hatch after five or six weeks. Both the male and female care for their young, taking turns baby-sitting and hunting for the chicks. After two months, the juveniles have their waterproof feathers and are ready to head out to the ocean. But it can take up to two years for them to get the full black and white plumage of the adults. Penguins live 15 to 20 years on average.
Some of My Neighbors
Austral and South American sea lions; king cormorant; king, gentoo, and rockhopper penguins; Patagonian foxes; giant petrel; leopard and southern elephant seals; southern right whale
Population Status & Threats
The biggest threats to the Magellanic penguin are commercial fishing and the oil industry. It is estimated that more than 40,000 penguins die in Argentina and the Falkland Islands each year due to oil pollution. Commercial fishing depletes the schools of fish penguins and other seabirds feed on and the birds themselves can get entangled in nets. In Chile, the penguins are also threatened by hunting, where they are used as fishing bait.
WCS Conservation Efforts
WCS has been working with local partners in coastal Patagonia since the 1960s, helping to conserve southern right whales, Magellanic penguins, and southern elephant seals. Our Sea & Sky program is committed to supporting the health of the Patagonian Sea—one of the most productive regions in the southern hemisphere. In 2008, WCS helped achieve two victories for the Magellanic penguin in Argentina: a ban on commercial fishing at Burdwood Bank, and the creation of a marine park at Golfo San Jorge. Both are key habitats for the birds and their prey.