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The common name of the species is taken from macaroni fashion, the name for the exaggerated style of dress that appeared in Europe during the late 18th century. The name is appropriate, as the macaroni's most distinguishing feature is the crest of golden-yellow plume-like feathers that arise from a central patch on the forehead, extending back along the crown and drooping down behind each eye. The seemingly oversized red bill contributes to the look. The head, chin, throat, and upperparts are black, the underparts are white, and the flippers are black on the upper surface and mainly white below. Juveniles resemble adults in most respects, but their brownish eyes and the absence of a yellow-orange crest distinguishes them from adults. The chicks have gray feathers on their back and a white underside.
One the biggest and heaviest of the penguins, the macaroni stands a little over 2 feet tall and weighs about 13 pounds; females are a little smaller than males.
Although macaronis can remain under water for long periods of time, they typically surface after two or three minutes to breathe. As they swim, they use their webbed feet to steer, with the help of their tails, which serve as a rudder. They regularly dive to depths up to 230 feet in search of food, but have been seen as deep as 375 feet.
Distribution and Habitat
The macaroni is among the most numerous penguin species in the world, with a population of approximately 18 million. It spends most of its time during the colder winter months fishing in the cold oceans surrounding the antarctic continent, and breeds on sub-Antarctic islands in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, with at least one breeding population on the Antarctic Peninsula. The largest gathering of macaroni penguins is on South Georgia Island, with almost 3 million breeding pairs.
Macaronis breed on rocky, water-bound areas, on rocks and cliffs above the ocean.
Approximately 95 per cent of the macaroni's diet consists of krill, with squid making up the majority of the remainder.
Adults arrive at their breeding grounds in late October, and begin laying their eggs in early November. Macaroni penguins may assemble by the millions in their massive rookeries and can be smelled as far as 5-6 miles offshore. Most breeding pairs are monogamous, and they tend to return to the same nest each year. Macaroni penguin nests are made from scrapes found in mud or gravel among rocks.
Macaroni penguins are atypical in that the first egg of the breeding season is much smaller and less likely to develop than the second egg. Incubation is shared by both parents in long shifts. Eggs hatch after 33 to 37 days. The male broods and guards the chicks for 23 to 25 days while the females bring food daily. Chicks then gather into small creches and are fed every 1 to 2 days until they are ready to leave and go to sea, at 60 to 70 days old. Macaroni penguins leave their breeding colony by April or May.
Female macaroni penguins become sexually mature at age five, whereas most males wait until age six to breed. Life span in the wild is 8-15 years.
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This page was last updated on June 16, 2017.