Magellanic Penguin Fact File

Spheniscus magellanicus

Credit: Public Domain








Wild 8.5 years

Captive 34 years



Fish, Squid

Conservation Status


Least Concern

Magellanic penguins breed along the coastline of South America. During winter they spend most of their time at sea seeking out food.

They are well equipped for a life in the ocean. During dives they remain submerged for up to 90 seconds. A special gland next to the eyes will excrete salt from the water which they consume.

Pairs of magellanic penguins will come back together each breeding season. They can locate one another using their calls which are likened to the braying of a donkey.

They are increasingly threatened by oil spills, interactions with fisheries and climate change.

Read on to learn more about these brilliant birds.


What does the magellanic penguin look like?

Magellanic penguins have a black back and a white stomach. Two black bands are situated between the head and breast. Their body is covered by a dense coat of feathers.

During the breeding season they will lose feathers near the eyes and bill. This exposes an area of pink skin.

Their tail is short and wedge shaped. A flipper is present on either side of the body. These modified wings help to propel them through the water. Their feet are webbed to support them on land.

They have a short, hooked bill which is colored black.

These birds survive in the ocean due to a special gland near the eye which allows them to secrete excess salt which they consume.

An average magellanic penguin will measure 76cm (30in) long and weigh between 3.2 and 4.5kg (7-10lbs). Males and females are similar in size.

They share many of their features with the humboldt penguin. They can be distinguished from these birds as the stripe of white on the side of the head is wider. The magellanic penguin is also a slightly larger species.


What does the magellanic penguin eat?

Magellanic penguins are carnivores which will feed on fish, squid, krill and crustaceans.

Spheniscus magellanicus

Credit: Public Domain


Where can you find the magellanic penguin?

South America is the native home of the magellanic penguin. Here they reside and breed in Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands. Non-breeding individuals are found in Brazil, Peru and Uruguay.

Occasional vagrants have been recorded from Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.


What kind of environment does the magellanic penguin live in?

Magellanic penguins will spend much of their time in the ocean where they will forage for food. They rarely venture past the continental shelf. Much of their foraging takes place far off the coast.

On land they occur mainly on islands or in coastal areas. They may make use of areas of forest, shrubland or grassland.

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How does the magellanic penguin produce its young?

Breeding occurs once per year during summer and takes place in a large colony with up to 400,000 individuals. Colonies are dense with only a short gap between nests. Partners remain together using a call. Each year they mate with the same partner.

Males will fight at the beginning of the breeding season for nest sites and mates.

Their nest is formed among grass or rocks. They may even dig a burrow in to soft soil. The burrow ends with a chamber which is higher than the tunnel to prevent water getting near the eggs.

A female will deposit 2 eggs within the nest around 37 days after mating. Both the male and female will share incubation between foraging for food and incubating their eggs.

If resources are plentiful they will raise both chicks but during times of food scarcity they will focus all of their efforts on one chick.

The chick is fed once every three or so days. It will remain in the nest for nine to seventeen weeks. After fledging the chick may still be fed for another 10 days.

Sexual maturity is reached at four years old.


What does the magellanic penguin do with its day?

These birds produce a vocalization which is likened to the bray of a donkey.

Summer is spent on land at the breeding colony. During winter they take to the water where they will hunt for food.

When at sea they can remain underwater for 90 seconds before surfacing. They will dive to depths up to 50m (164ft).

Each year these animals undergo a molt. This occurs during March soon after they finish breeding. They spend a period at sea building up body mass before coming ashore. Then over 19-22 days they will lose their feathers and grow new ones. During this time they are not waterproof and must remain on shore.

If these birds become too hot they will extend their flippers up increasing surface area for the breeze to cool.

Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

Credit: Public Domain

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the magellanic penguin?

Natural predators of the magellanic penguin include birds such as kelp gulls, mammals such as red foxes, cats such as pumas, South American sea lions and orcas.

Introduced predators such as dogs will hunt this species in parts of their range.

Current estimates place the magellanic penguin population at between 1.1 and 1.6 million pairs but this number is declining.

This species is facing a range of threats. Major factors in their decline have been oil pollution, climate change and effects of fishery operations.

Increases in oil exploration along the South American coast are increasing this threat.

Fisheries mostly impact them through bycatch in nets and other fishing equipment.

Climate change has seen the amount of rain increase across their habitat. This can wet the chicks which will often then die from hypothermia.

In some areas their eggs and the adults are harvested for food. Some are also taken for use in bait.

Quick facts

This species was described by Ferdinand Magellan who recorded them during an expedition to South American in 1520.

Spheniscus magellanicus

Credit: Rufus46, CC BY-SA 3.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons


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

Shedd Aquarium. 2021. Magellanic Penguins. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021].

2021. Magellanic Penguin. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021].

Patagonia and other adventure travel destinations. 2021. Magellanic Penguins in Chilean Patagonia. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021]. 2021. Magellanic Penguin Facts and Information | SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021].

Pacific, A., 2021. Magellanic Penguin. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021]. 2021. Magellanic Penguin | Potter Park Zoo. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 18 December 2021].

BirdLife International. 2020. Spheniscus magellanicusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T22697822A157428850. Accessed on 18 December 2021.

LaMarre, V. 2011. "Spheniscus magellanicus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 18, 2021 at

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