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Macaroni Penguin Fact File

Eudyptes chrysolophus

Credit:  Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

Weight

3.5-6.5kg

(7.75-14lbs)

Length

70cm

(27.5in)

Lifespan

Wild 8-15 years

Captive 8-15 years

Diet

Carnivore

Krill, Squid, Fish

Conservation Status

IUCN

Vulnerable

The macaroni penguin is considered to be the most abundant species of penguin on earth and is found in Antarctica, a range of sub-Antarctic islands and in southern South America.

These birds are carnivores which spend much of their year at sea hunting for krill, squid and fish. They perform dives of an average 2 minutes long in search of food.

They only come to land for significant periods to breed and molt. During the molt they will spend around 25 days on land while they lose any old, damaged feathers which affect their waterproofing. During this time they are unable to swim.

Macaroni penguins are increasingly threatened by climate change, interaction with fisheries, oil spills and disturbance through tourism.

Read on to learn more about these beautiful birds.

Appearance

What does the macaroni penguin look like?

The head of the macaroni penguin is colored black which runs down across the upper chest and out across the back. The underside is white. They are most notable for the yellow plumes which sit above the eyes.

Their bill is short, bulbous and colored orange-brown along its length with pink at the base.

Their legs and feet are colored pink with black soles on the feet. The iris is colored red.

An average macaroni penguin will be 70cm (27.5in) long with a weight between 3.5 and 6.5kg (7.75-14lbs). Males tend to be larger than females.

The crest of these birds is similar to those seen on rockhopper and royal penguins. Their range rarely crosses with that of the royal penguin helping to distinguish these two. They also have a black chin which the royal penguin does not.

Diet

What does the macaroni penguin eat?


These birds are carnivores. They feed on krill, amphipods and fish. Their diet will vary throughout the year. After incubation they rely on fish while in winter they mostly feed on crustaceans.

macaroni penguin

Credit: kuhnmi, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Range

Where can you find the macaroni penguin?

The macaroni penguin is a resident on a range of sub-Antarctic islands along with the coastlines of southern South America. Here they can be found in the following countries – Antarctica; Bouvet Island; Chile; Falkland Islands (Malvinas); French Southern Territories; Heard Island and McDonald Islands; South Africa (Marion-Prince Edward Is.); South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Non-breeding populations are present in Argentina.

The species is an occasional visitor to Australia, Brazil and New Zealand.

At least 258 colonies are found at the 55 breeding sites.

Habitat

What kind of environment does the macaroni penguin live in?

These animals make their home in marine environments.

Their nesting sites are located on level or steep ground. Often these sites are bare of vegetation due to the penguins pulling out the grass or due to over-fertilization as a result of the high nitrogen content in penguin droppings.

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Reproduction

How does the macaroni penguin produce its young?

These birds are considered monogamous. After spending the year at sea they will return to the same nesting site and call until they identify their partner.

Pairs will deposit two eggs in to their nest. Only one chick will ever reach fledging. This tends to be the chick from the second egg which is often larger. All birds in the colony will lay their eggs within two weeks of one another.

Their nest is established in the shade under vegetation or rocks.


Both the parents will work together to incubate the eggs. In almost all cases the female will take the first shift sitting on the egg. They then swap once every 7 to 12 days. Males will take the final shift while the female goes to sea gathering food for both herself and the chick.

After hatching the chick relies on its parents for heat and they will be constantly brooded in shifts by the parents. It is fed on regurgitated food from the parents. The male goes first while the female goes to sea.

After 25 days the chick has developed enough feathers to keep itself warm. They must wait on land for 11 weeks old when their feathers become waterproof and they can forage at sea. During this time the chicks will huddle together in a group to keep warm.

Females reach sexual maturity at 5 years old followed by the males at 6 years old.

Behavior

What does the macaroni penguin do with its day?

At their colonies these animals will produce a loud braying noise. While at sea their vocalization is a short bark.

Outside of the breeding season these birds are rarely seen on land. Most of their time is spent in the open ocean foraging.

These birds dive to depths between 15-60m (50-200ft) deep. They may remain submerged for up to 2 minutes.

Each year these birds undergo a molt. This occurs roughly 3 weeks after the breeding season ends. Prior to this they take to the sea and gather large fat reserves to survive on as they are not waterproof and can not feed during this time.

The molt takes 25 days during which they lose their insulating feathers. This process removes damaged feathers which prevent them being waterproof.

In the water this species can reach a top speed of up to 24km/h (15mph).

Macaroni penguin

Credit: Jerzy Strzelecki, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the macaroni penguin?

Natural predators of the macaroni penguin include fur seals, leopard seals, killer whales and birds such as giant petrels and the skua which will feed on chicks.

Introduced species such as cats, mice and rabbits are present in some of their habitats and may have an impact on this species.

While direct predation by fur seals is a major threat an even greater one is competition with these animals for their prey.

The total population of macaroni penguins is estimated at 6.3 million breeding pairs with the largest individual colony including 2.2 million pairs. They are considered to be the most abundant penguin species.

Numbers of this species are unfortunately decreasing across their range.

Fisheries threaten them through accidental capture and removing their food source. Disturbance by humans more generally through tourism and research is another threat.

Oil spills have an effect on localized populations where they occur.

Quick facts

Macaroni penguins are considered to be the world's most abundant penguin species.

These birds may be referred to as the alpine penguin due to their habit of scaling cliffs.

Their is taken from a fashion trend at the time of discovery in which young men would wear a feather in their hat. The yellow crest feathers of these birds would remind the explorers of this.

The scientific name of this species means 'good diver with a golden crest.'

Macaroni penguin

Credit: Jerzy Strzelecki, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

References

Alderton, D. and Barrett, P., 2019. The complete illustrated encyclopedia of birds of the world. Lorenz Books.

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

BirdLife International. 2020. Eudyptes chrysolophusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697793A184720991. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T22697793A184720991.en. Downloaded on 22 November 2021.

2021. Macaroni Penguin. [online] Available at: <https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/macaroni-penguin> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

Seabrook-Davison, M.N.H. 2013 [updated 2017]. Macaroni penguin. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Onlinewww.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Antarctica.gov.au. 2021. Macaroni penguins. [online] Available at: <https://www.antarctica.gov.au/about-antarctica/animals/penguins/macaroni-penguins/> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

Tennessee Aquarium. 2021. Macaroni Penguin · Tennessee Aquarium. [online] Available at: <https://tnaqua.org/animal/macaroni-penguin/> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

Seaworld.org. 2021. Macaroni Penguin Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/birds/macaroni-penguin/> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

TravelWild Expeditions. 2021. Macaroni penguin. [online] Available at: <https://travelwild.com/wildlife/antarctica-wildlife/macaroni-penguin/> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

Biologicaldiversity.org. 2021. Macaroni penguin. [online] Available at: <https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/penguins/macaroni_penguin.html> [Accessed 22 November 2021].

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