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Flightless Friday - Spheniscus magellanicus Edition

These penguins are in a band! Or, they have bands. Banded penguins. Something like that.

The Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) is the most numerous of the banded penguins in the Spheniscus genus. As might be guessed from the name, they were called after the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who is thought to have first seen them on an expedition in the year 1519. They are endemic to South America, and live along the coasts of the Falkland Islands, Argentina, Chile and even Brazil. Though they do not have any breeding colonies in Peru, they have been spotted as far north as that country.


Adult Magellanic Penguins are medium-sized as penguins go, standing up to 30 inches (76 cm) tall, and weighing up to 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg) depending on the season. In general, males outweigh females, and both of them lose weight during the breeding season. Like other banded penguins, Magellanic Penguins have alternated white and black bands around their bellies, with an additional white band that rings their face. Chicks have gray down, and juveniles are more blue-gray until they fledge into their adult feathers.

The diet of Magellanic Penguins depends on their specific range, but mainly consists of squid, cuttlefish, ocean fish, krill and crustaceans. Penguins will often ingest a certain amount of saltwater with their prey, since they hunt underwater. An adaptation that has allowed them to manage this is the supraorbital gland positioned above the eye socket. This gland functions somewhat like kidneys do for humans, removing sodium chloride from the blood stream and allowing penguins to survive without access to fresh water, or suffer ill effects from ingesting salt water.


Magellanic Penguins start to arrive at the breeding sites in September, where established breeding pairs start to spruce up the same nesting site they had used the previous year. Un-matched penguins will engage in mating displays, with males calling for mates and walking circles around eligible females, after which they will start patting flippers. Females lay a clutch of two eggs, both of which are incubated by the parents in shifts. After about 42 days, the chicks hatch and are under constant care until they are about a month old. At this age the chicks are able to be left alone for a few days while the adults forage for food.


Though Magellanic Penguins are more numerous than other types of banded penguins, they are still considered to be a threatened species because their habitat is often vulnerable to oil spills, which can have devastating effects on colonies. As the earth’s climate changes, food sources are becoming displaced, causing the penguins to have to swim farther in order to feed. It was a Magellanic Penguin that committed an act of free speech by biting then-candidate Newt Gingrich on the finger during a visit to the St. Louis Zoo in 2012. The activist penguin was reported to be just fine after the incident, suffering no ill effects.


Source for all images used in this post.

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