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Humboldt Penguin

Spheniscus humboldti

Humboldt Penguin


The Humboldt Penguin is distinguished from the Magellanic Penguin by a wide, solid black breast band, which also helps in distinguishing adults from juveniles, who have a darker head. It also has splotchy pink patches on its face and feet, as well as the underside of the wings. The pink is the result of bare skin patches, an adaptation that helps keep the bird cool in a warmer climate.

Humboldts are medium-sized penguins, averaging 28 inches long and weighing about 9 pounds. Females are slightly smaller than males, but otherwise look very similar.

Distribution and Habitat

The Humboldt is endemic to the subtropical Pacific coasts of Chile and Peru. This area is located adjacent to the Humboldt Current, a large oceanic upwelling characterized by cold, nutrient rich waters, and for which it is named.

Although it spends a considerable amont of time in the water, the Humboldt must come ashore to rest, breed, and raise young. Its preferred habitat is rocky shoreline with large deposits of guano for nesting, but it will occasionally use a cave along the shore.


Humboldt penguins specialize on schooling gish, especially anchovies and herrings, but also take squid, shrimp, and krill.


Like most penguins, Humboldts are usually monogamous and recognize their partner in the colony through distinct vocal cues. In rare cases, the female will solicit another male for mating. One rare trait of the mating of Humboldt penguins is that males may start usurps, defined as an unpaired male that invades the nest of an established pair, a strategy which can lead to the injury and even death of the invader.

Breeding takes place between March and December, with peaks in April and August to September. Before mating begins, the penguins spend about two weeks molting and fasting, then go to sea to feed before returning to the breeding grounds to mate. The male arrives at a site a few days before the female and prepares the nest burrow, which is usually dug into the thick deposits of guano found on the shore line; sometimes they nest in rocky crevices. After the two eggs have been laid the male and female will share the duty of attending to the nest for the full extent of the approximately six-week incubation period. Chicks rarely leave their nest scrape until they are fledged at about 12 weeks. They then fend for themselves along the coast for several months before returning to establish their own nests, often within the same colony where they were reared.

Other Information

Humboldts live in large colonies and are highly social except during foraging. Individuals have vocalizations that are unique and distinguishable by mates.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Sphenisciformes
family Spheniscidae
genus & species Spheniscus humboldti

Animal Diversity Web

Magellanic Penguin

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This page was last updated on June 24, 2017.