The Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua) can be found on the Antarctic peninsula and throughout many sub-Antarctic islands. The subspecies are defined by where they primarily breed. Pygoscelis papua papua breeds in South Georgia, Heard, Kerugulen, the Falklands, Macquarie and Staten Islands. Pygoscelis papua ellsworthi breeds on South Sandwich Island, South Shetland Island, South Orkney Island and the Antarctic peninsula. They have been observed as far north as Australia, Argentina and New Zealand, but not for breeding.
Adult Gentoo Penguins are easily distinguished from other penguin species within its range by their brightly-colored bills and feet, as well as the white stripe that runs from eye to eye around the back of their heads. They grow up to 35 inches (90 cm) tall and tip the scales at 19 pounds (8.5 kg) depending on the season, which makes them the third-largest penguin species in the world. Males are slightly heavier than females. Among penguins, Gentoo Penguins have some of the longest tails relative to body size.
The diet of Gentoo Penguins depends on where they happen to be foraging at the time, but is made up of krill, cephalopods, crustaceans, and segmented sea worms. They are the fastest species of penguin when swimming in the water, with observed speeds up to 22 miles per hour (36 kmh). They are also impressive divers, regularly descending to depths of almost 600 feet (170 meters).
The breeding season of Gentoo Penguins varies by the specific breeding location, but the entire population will reach its various nesting sites between June and November. Breeding colonies can be as small as thirty breeding pairs, or as large as thousands of pairs. Breeding pairs often mate with each other year after year and claim the same nesting site. The nests are built on ice-free ground, constructed of plant matter and fertilized with the birds’ droppings. Plants grow very well around these breeding colonies. The females will lay a clutch of two eggs, which are incubated by both parents in shifts. After about 36 days, the eggs will hatch, and the chicks fledge when they’re around 85 days old.
The breeding populations of the sub-Antarctic islands have been on the decline for reasons that require further study. It could be due to disruptive human activity on those islands, or competition with commercial fishing. Gentoo Penguins are considered to be near threatened by the IUCN, and much of their breeding territory is protected in order to prevent further decline.
Source for all images used in this post.