A Humboldt penguin

Humboldt penguin
Rocky Shores,
The Living Coast


Order: Sphenisiformes
Family: Spheniscidae

What do Humboldt penguins look like?

Humboldt penguin have a streamlined, torpedo-shaped body covered with short, waterproof, black-and-white feathers, giving them the classic tuxedoed look. They have stiff, narrow flippers, bare face and feet and eyebrow and chest stripes. There is no sexual dimorphism, so males and females look alike.

How do Humboldt penguins move?

Humboldt penguins “fly” through the water very efficiently, usually swimming about 7 kph. They can sprint up to 14 kph. While their body is ideally suited for swimming, it is not so ideal for land. Consequently, penguins have a waddling walk. However, they are amazingly good hoppers and runners. They are capable of jumping up to almost their full height.

How do Humboldt penguins communicate?

The sounds penguins produce are not at all song-like. They are much more like donkey braying, trumpeting, and grunting. They also communicate with head and flipper waving.

Where are Humboldt penguins found?

Humboldt penguins are found on the western shores of South America in Peru and northern Chile. They are able to live in these areas because of the cooling effects of the “chilly” Humboldt Current, which gives this species its name. At Brookfield Zoo, Humboldt penguins are found in The Living Coast.

What are typical behaviors for Humboldt penguins?

Penguins live in huge colonies that they share with other aquatic seabirds. Nonbreeding penguins spend most of their time at sea, rarely coming back to land.

What do penguins eat?

In the wild, Humboldt penguins eat primarily small schooling fish like sardines and anchovies. They are “inshore” feeders and do not feed in the open ocean. Their greatest diving depth appears to be about 15 m. They can stay submerged for up to two minutes. They may travel as far as 75 km in a day, especially if they are feeding young.

Do Humboldt penguins have any particular mating and nesting behaviors?

Males and females begin to breed at about three years. They often pair with the same mate for many years. A male arrives at the nesting area a few days before the female to prepare the nesting site. Once the nest is ready and the female arrives, a courtship dance begins and includes lots of bowing and head bobbing. The female lays two white eggs that take 39 days to hatch. Both parents alternate caring for the eggs.

What is the life story of a new chick?

The two eggs hatch at different times. The chicks are born covered with very thin gray down and with their eyes shut. Both parents care for the chicks. By six weeks, the chicks begin to develop adult feathers, and have full adult plumage at about a year. They will remain dependent on the parents until they are about three months old.

Do Humboldt penguins have natural enemies?

Leopard seals and sharks prey on the penguins as they swim. Chicks are eaten by gulls, larger seabirds, and desert foxes. In addition to predators, the geographic range of the Humboldt penguin threatens the species because Peru and Chile are areas where El Nino storms destroy large regions of nesting areas. El Nino also affects sea temperature, which can reduce the penguins’ food supply. Humans also threaten Humboldt penguin populations because they collect eggs and penguin guano, which the penguins nest in, but people use as a fertilizer. Penguins may get entangled in fishing nets, too. The Chilean population is not as threatened as Peruvian populations are. The Peruvian government has installed walls around the rookeries to limit predation and disturbance at the breeding sites.

What kinds of things will I see in the exhibit?

In The Living Coast, the penguins can best be seen in Rocky Shores. You can get very close to the birds and observe them in the water and on the shore. Terns and gulls fly overhead. You can observe detailed interactions between birds and maybe even courtship, if you visit during the breeding season.

Continue your research!

The Penguin Page is an amateur site with information about all kinds of penguins, including the Humboldt penguin.

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