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Fr: Manchot de Magellan
All : Magellanpinguin
Esp : Pingüino Magellánico
Ital: Pinguino di Magellano
Nd: Magelhaenpinguïn
Sd: Magelhaen penguin
Port: Pingüim-de-magalhães

Photographs by Philippe and Aline Wolfer

Text by Nicole Bouglouan

Sources :

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

Avibase (Lepage Denis)

Animal Diversity Web (University of Michigan Museum of Zoology)

Antarctic Connection (Thomas Hutchings – Gloria Hutchings)

ARKive (Christopher Parsons)


Penguins of the world (Mike Bingham)


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Summary cards

Magellanic Penguin
Spheniscus magellanicus

Sphenisciforme Order – Spheniscidae Family

Length: 68-76 cm
Weight: M: 4900 g – F: 4600 g

The Magellanic Penguin is very noisy outside the sea, and often when one bird starts to call, the entire colony utters a huge clamour.
This penguin is named after Ferdinand Magellan who found this species first in 1519, during a trip to the south of South America.

Adult has black upperparts and white underparts with scattered black spots on the breast. Black and white are separated by two broad lines, one white and the other black, running from thigh to thigh along the edges, and crossing the upper breast.
Flippers are black above with white edges, and pale pinkish-white below. 

On the black head, a broad white stripe runs above the eye, behind the cheeks and joins the throat. The fleshy lores, the upper eyelid and the eye-ring are pink. 
The strong bill is black. Eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are blackish.

Both sexes are similar with female slightly smaller than male.
The juvenile resembles adult, but it lacks the head and breast pattern.

The Magellanic Penguins are very social and often communicate by vocal sounds. They give a kind of loud brays and all the others answer little by little, until the entire colony utters a huge clamour.

The Magellanic Penguin lives in marina habitat. They breed on coastal beaches, sandy dunes or hills of clay, both in forested areas or on grassy slopes.
They also favour offshore islands with grass and small shrubs, where they excavate their burrows into the soft soil, protected by dense vegetation.

The Magellanic Penguin is found in the southern coasts of South America, from C Chile and C Argentina, southwards to Cape Horn. It also breeds on Falkland Islands.

The Magellanic Penguin is an opportunistic feeder and takes as well fish (mainly anchovies) of several species; as squid and crustaceans. It performs foraging trips, and usually forages at less than 50 metres of depth, even if occasionally it may dive up to 90-100 metres. They can perform co-operative feeding at shoals.
Preys are caught and swallowed under water and head first, while swimming. Larger items are probably brought up to the surface or to the shore.
They usually capture fish by swimming along underneath them for best view of the prey.

Another technique has been recorded. When the Magellanic Penguin detects a shoal of fish, it accelerates and swims round the fish in circles becoming shorter little by little, and suddenly dashes into the shoal to snatch what it can catch.
The Magellanic Penguin may also fish in association with predators such a large fishes, seabirds and sea lions.

It is loosely colonial and usually nests in burrows, making the colony less compact than in surface-nesting species. These colonies may extend over several kilometres on sea-coasts.

The Magellanic Penguin is monogamous. The male arrives long time before the female and when she arrives, pairing is very quick. Courtship displays occur between the pair formation and the laying. The bird stretches the neck and points the bill skywards, spreads the flippers while uttering a braying sound. This display can be repeated during one hour or more. They also perform allopreening to strengthen the pair-bonds. 

The Magellanic Penguin is migratory and moves northwards after the moult, from April to August. They move to warmer waters during winter.
Only the southernmost birds migrate. Other populations tend to remain near the colonies.

The Magellanic Penguin is an excellent swimmer and can travel long distances. The “wings” or flippers are used as paddles, making them able to reach speeds of about 20/25 km per hour. It may travel up to 600 kilometres to feed during several days.
On the ground, it walks in standing up posture, with small steps due to the short legs. It moves slowly with open flippers used to keep the balance. When the nest is higher on slopes, the male descends by walking or gliding backwards.

The Magellanic Penguin arrives at colony in August-September, and the laying occurs in September-October.
Adults establish the nest-site within the loose colony. They excavate the burrow which will provide them protection from excessive heat and predators.

The female lays two eggs at four days intervals. Incubation lasts about 40 days. The female incubates for the first period while the male is feeding at sea during several days. Then, when it returns, it incubates while the female goes to the sea for feeding during 15-20 days too. When she returns, both parents incubate, taking regular turns until the chicks hatch.
The chicks are brooded by both adults during one month. They are fed daily by parents which forage within 30 kilometres from the colony during this period. The male often feeds the female at nest.

At one month, the chicks are able to go out the burrow because they have developed their plumage. They are brownish-grey above and whitish below.
As the chicks are well protected in the burrows while parents are at sea, this species does not form crèches.

However, if there are heavy rains, the burrow can be flooded and the chicks become wet and cold. They do not have yet the complete plumage of the adults and can die in such conditions.

The Magellanic Penguin rears the two chicks successfully if the food resources are sufficient. But sometimes, the first chick to hatch gets more food than the second one which can die.

The young fledge between 9 and 17 weeks of age, according to the food resources. When the weather conditions are good, they sit outside the entrance, but quickly return to the nest if threatened.

The Magellanic Penguin feeds on fish, mainly anchovies (Engraulis ringens), squid and crustaceans. It swims underwater, catches the prey and swallows it head first. They perform co-operative feeding at shoals.

The Magellanic Penguin’s populations are abundant, but several threats such as egg-collecting, habitat degradation with destruction of burrows, oil pollution, increase of commercial fishing and disturbances at colonies, involved marked decline.
They also have natural predators such as large aquatic mammals at sea, and avian predators of chicks and eggs such as gulls and skuas on the ground.
The species is evaluated as Near Threatened.