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Magellanic Penguin Facts

i Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Magellanic penguins (Spheniscus magellanicus) are small, ocean-going penguins native to the waters off the coast of South America. Though they are named for the Strait of Magellan, this mobile species is not limited to one locale and can be incredibly far-reaching, often migrating as far north as El Salvador in search of food.


Magellanic penguins have the same black-and-white color scheme that distinguishes most penguin species, with black backs, faces and bills and white necks and stomachs. The white necks of the adults are broken up with two symmetrical black bands, while juvenile penguins have just one black band. Adult Magellanic penguins average about 9 pounds in weight and can range in height from 24 to 30 inches. Males tend to be larger than females.

Habitat and Range

Though we normally associate penguins with chilly climates, Magellanic penguins reside in temperate and even tropical environments. These penguins can be found along the coasts of southern South America, from Argentina south to Chile and on the Falkland Islands. Magellanic penguins spend the majority of their time in open water off the shores of South America. During breeding season, they nest on land, normally choosing shrubby grassland habitats along the shore near enough to the ocean to allow for foraging. They may also build their nests along cliff faces, in burrows or crevices.


Magellanic penguins are exceptional swimmers, foraging for food in the open ocean, sometimes more than 620 miles from shore. Only during their breeding and chick rearing season -- from September to February -- do Magellanic penguins spend a significant portion of their time on the shore. Though they migrate long distances in search of food, nearly all adult Magellanic penguins return to their own birthplace to nest each year.

Magellanic penguins form monogamous pairs who will remain together for many years. These pair bonds are strengthened through mutual preening and display calls. According to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, female penguins respond more strongly to the call of their mate than the calls of other males.

Prey and Predators

Magellanic penguins' diet consists almost entirely of fish, though the exact species they prefer will differ depending on what is most commonly found in different parts of their range. Northern penguins typically eat anchovies, while penguins in southern colonies will eat squid, hake, sprat and hagfish.

While in the open ocean, Magellanic penguins provide a food source for petrels, sea lions and orcas. On land, eggs and chicks are susceptible to predation by foxes, armadillos, gulls and predatory cats.


As of 2010, the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species lists the Magellanic penguin as “near threatened,” meaning the population has seen a sustained moderately rapid decline, but is not yet considered vulnerable to extinction. Oil pollution from offshore petroleum extraction and illegally disposed of waste water is a major contributor of this decline, killing an estimated 20,000 adult penguins and 22,000 juveniles each year.