Galapagos Penguin Fact File

Spheniscus mendiculus








Wild 15-20 years

Captive 15-20 years




Conservation Status



The Galapagos penguin is the most northerly species of penguin being the only one which can live North of the equator. They make their home on the Galapagos islands off the coast of South America.

As a flightless bird their wings are instead adapted as flippers to help them travel through the water at speeds of up to 35kmh (21.8mph). They use this speed to help capture the fish they feed on.

Galapagos penguins will breed year round when conditions are favorable.

Unfortunately a range of introduced predators, oil spills and variation in weather conditions has caused their populations to suffer a large decline.

Learn more about these precious penguins by reading on below.


Galapagos penguins are a smaller species of temperate penguin. Adults stand 50cm (19.75in) long with a weight between 1.7 and 2.1kg (3.75 and 4.5lbs).

Males and females are almost impossible to determine from one another based on appearance.

Their body is covered by feathers which are white on the underside and black on the back and head. No feathers are present on the legs. Around the eye and at the base of the bill are bare patches of skin. A horseshoe patter of white feathers runs back from the eye and around to the chin.

On either side of the body are remnant wings. As these birds are flightless their wings have instead evolved in to paddles which help to propel them through the water.

They have a long bill which is adapted to help them grab slippery fish. This is colored pink and black. Males tend to have slightly thicker bills than females.


Galapagos penguins are carnivores which feed on small fish. They will exploit fish stocks within cold water currents which have a higher nutrient content than in warm, tropical waters.

Galapagos Penguin


As their name suggests the Galapagos penguin is found on the Galapagos islands. These are found off the coast of South America and are considered part of Ecuador.

Within the Galapagos these penguins are found on the islands of Isabela, Fernandina, Floreana and Santiago along with a number of offshore islets.

Their range location makes them the only penguin to live North of the equator. This is made possible through the Humboldt current which brings cold, productive water up from the Antarctic.

Occasional vagrants have been reported on occasion in Panama.


Galapagos penguins make their home on the shoreline of islands. Much of their time is spent at sea.

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Breeding activity is noted year round with a peak from May to January.

Pairs are considered monogamous and come together each year to mate. Both parents assist with raising the eggs. To reinforce their bond they will tap bills and preen one another.

Females lay up to 2 eggs which are incubated for 38 to 42 days. These eggs are deposited in to a deep rock crevice which helps to keep them cool. Both parents share the incubation duties. While one is incubating the other will go out to sea and forage.

At hatching the chicks are covered by dark-brown down feathers. Fledging occurs between eight and nine weeks old.

Sexual maturity is reached between 3 and 8 years old. Males tend to mature later than females.

When conditions are good they may raise as many as 3 clutches in a year.


Throughout the year a Galapagos penguin will undergo two molts. During this time they lose all their feathers and grow new ones. This process takes 13 days.

When they become warm the Galapagos penguin will spread their flippers and lift their feet to increase surface area for heat loss. They may also flap the wings to help reduce heat.

They tend to spend the day at sea fishing and then come to land at night which provides some level of safety for these flightless birds.

When swimming the Galapagos penguin will reach speeds of up to 35kmh (21.8mph).

Galapagos penguins vocalize using a loud, honking bray.

Galapagos Penguin

Predators and Threats

Natural predators of the Galapagos penguin include snakes, owls and hawks on land along with sharks, fur seals and sea lions at sea.

Introduced predators such as rats, dogs and cats affect their population. Cats can also transmit parasites. The threat these pose is as yet unknown.

Galapagos penguins face a wide variety of threats. These include lack of available prey through environmental conditions and overfishing.

Contamination from oil spills will affect them. Plastic pollution is also an increasing threat to their survival.

These penguins are also susceptible to infectious diseases such as avian malaria and West Nile virus.

All 18 species of penguin on Earth are afforded legal protection from hunting or egg collecting.

They are highly susceptible to environmental conditions. A strong El Nino event in 1982 is estimated to have caused 77% of the population to die through starvation. These events warm the waters around their habitat.

Less than 2,000 Galapagos penguins are thought to remain though their population is beginning to recover.

Quick facts

The Galapagos penguin is the only one of the 18 penguin species found North of the equator.

They are the third smallest of the world's penguin species.

Galapagos Penguin

Photo Credits

Top and Middle One

Public Domain

Middle Two

putneymark, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Mike Weston, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

Ambrose, J., 2015. Wildlife Of The World. 1st ed. London: Dorling Kindersley

Woodward, J. and Bryan, K., 2016. DK knowledge encyclopedia Animal!. London: Dorling Kindersley

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus mendiculus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697825A182729677. Downloaded on 03 June 2021. 2021. Galápagos Penguin Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 3 June 2021].

Galapagos Conservation Trust. 2021. Galapagos Penguin Species - Galapagos Conservation Trust. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2021].

Oceana. 2021. Galapagos Penguin. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2021].

Aurora Expeditions™. 2021. Galápagos Penguin Facts & Information | Aurora Expeditions™. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2021].

American Bird Conservancy. 2021. Galapagos Penguin | American Bird Conservancy. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2021].

MarineBio. 2021. Galapagos Penguins, Spheniscus mendiculus. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 4 June 2021].

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