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Animal Data > Humboldt Penguin

(Spheniscus humboldti)

Status Distribution Sexually Mature
Vulnerable Coasts of Chile and Peru, in the area served by the Humboldt Current 2-3 years
Number of Young Gestation Life Span
2 41 days 15 years

As with all penguins, the Humboldts are both flightless and aquatic. Penguins have specialised feathers and each year they undergo a complete moult. The new feather grows underneath the old one, forcing it out, meaning that the old feathers are not discarded until the new ones are in place. Adult plumage is normally gained with the second moult.

Penguins' eyes are adapted for underwater vision, but they can still see adequately out of the water. Experiments undertaken with captive birds have suggested that Humboldts also have a sense of smell.

Penguins have a modified bone structure in their wings allowing them to 'fly' under the water. They use their tails and webbed feet as rudders.

Humboldts feed on fish, mainly anchovies, sardines, mullet, and similar schooling fish. The mouth and tongue is lined with fleshy, backward pointing spines, which help in holding slippery prey. Very little is known about the techniques of prey capture. Once prey has been located the birds tend to stay under the water catching and swallowing the fish. Most prey is swallowed head first, while the bird is swimming, but larger items are brought up to the surface. They have highly developed glands enabling them to deal with high levels of salt in their diet. Excess salt is excreted in a concentrated saline solution, which tends to dribble down the bill.

Humboldts nest in small colonies, using holes, cracks or caves, occasionally in more open sites. As they inhabit tropical zones they are able to nest at any of the year, so they adjust their breeding to tie in with local availability of food.

As inshore feeders they can bring food to the chicks frequently and are therefore able to raise 2 chicks. If food becomes scarce the adults only feed the larger chick.

Penguins are highly social birds and have a well developed system of communication, both visual and vocal. Individuals' calls are distinguishable, enabling partners to recognise each other and their chicks in the midst of the colony. The Humboldt has 3 main calls – a contact call, a display call and a threat call.

Threats to penguins include egg collecting, disturbance, habitat destruction, predation by introduced species and pollution. Natural phenomena such as El Nino also cause serious problems to the Humboldts, producing slumps in adult numbers and breeding failure. El Nino in 1982/83 caused the loss of 65% of the Peruvian population of Humboldt penguins.

Main Features

The head is mostly black with a white chin and white stripe extending from the bill, over each eye and broadening at the junction with the white upper breast. The upper parts of the body and the tail are blackish-grey. The underparts are white with an inverted, black, horseshoe-shaped band. It has a black bill, with a fleshy pink area at the base.

All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.Unlike other birds, penguins have solid heavy bones.

In Captivity

The first Humboldt penguins arrived at Marwell in March 2000. They are from a variety of zoos.

Penguin World has been specially designed to incorporate a 'dry' and a 'wet' beach, with specific grasses and plants on the banks. The pool is an irregular shape to make the underwater environment more interesting. Two biological filters clean and purify the water to avoid the use of potentially harmful chemicals. A bank of sand filters removes particles of debris, and ultra-violet lamps disinfect the water before it returns to the pool.

©2009 Marwell Wildlife