Penguin, Magellanic

Spheniscus magellanicus 

Magellanic penguins are medium-sized penguins which grow to be 61–76 cm (24–30 in) tall and weigh between 2.7 kg and 6.5 kg (5.9-14.3 lbs). The males are larger than the females and the weight of both drops while the parents nurture their young.  Adults have black backs and white stomachs. There are two black bands between the head and the breast, with the lower band shaped in an inverted horseshoe. The head is black with a broad white border that runs from behind the eye, around the black ear-coverts and chin, and joins at the throat. Chicks and younger penguins have grey-blue backs, with a more faded grey-blue color on their chest. Young birds usually have a blotched pattern on their feet, with this ‘blotching’ fading as they age. By the time these birds reach about ten years of age, their feet usually become all black.








Sub-Antarctic regions of coastal Chile and Argentina. Breeding populations are located on Juan Fernandez Islands, Isla de los Estados, Tierra del Fuego, and the Falklands.


Variable from bare to forested terrain, flat land, cliff faces, and coasts, using the environment’s vegetation to suit their needs. The majority of their time and life is spent in the sub-Antarctic waters near these areas.

Life Expectancy

In the wild, 15 – 20 years and up to 25 years; in captivity 15 – 20 years and up to 30 years.

Sexual Maturity

Females at 4 years, males at 5 years.


In the wild they eat krill, fish, squid, cuttlefish, and crustaceans; in the Zoo they are fed Capelin, threadfin herring and multi-vitamins.


IUCN - Near Threatened


Magellanic penguins are temperate weather penguins. During winter season, the penguins from the Atlantic coast of South America migrate northward to the coast of Brazil while the population from the Pacific Coast migrates north to coasts as far as Peru. Magellanic penguins are great long distance swimmers. They can reach speeds of up to 15 mph. They travel in large flocks when hunting for food. In the breeding season, these birds gather in large nesting colonies along the coasts of Argentina, southern Chile, and the Falkland Islands, which have a density of 20 nests per 328 sq. ft (100 sq. m). One of the largest of these colonies is located at Punta Tombo. Magellanic penguins mate with the same partner year after year. The male reclaims his burrow from the previous year and waits to reconnect with his female partner. The females are able to recognize their mates through their call alone. They nest in burrows or under bushes and both adults tend the nest, eggs and chicks. Nest tending for each bird can last as long as 10 to15 days while the other parent hunts for food. Eggs are incubated for approximately 40 days. After hatching, chicks are able to venture out of burrows by 30 days. Fledging occurs between 90 – 120 days of age. Chicks are initially covered in a coat of downy feathers and get their juvenile feathers by the time they fledge. Juveniles lack the distinctive stripes under the chin and across the breast; these stripes accompany the molt transition from juvenile feathers to adult feathers at 18 – 20 months of age. This species must go through an annual molt. It takes approximately two full weeks or more for penguins to completely shed their current feathers and grow new ones. To prepare for the molt, penguins must consume more calories and “bulk up” since they will not be able to swim and feed. This is a very stressful time for the penguins, and it is not uncommon for very elderly or immune compromised individuals to not survive the molting process. Once molting is complete, penguins return to the sea until the next breeding season. Their primary predators include orcas, leopard seals and sea lions.


Penguin camouflage is called counter-shading; the black back blends in with the ocean’s floor when predators are above them and looking down, and the white belly blends in with the ocean’s surface when predators are below them looking up. They have unfeathered fleshy areas on their faces that help to regulate heat. Penguin feathers are highly modified, short, broad, and closely spaced to insulate the body from the cold ocean temperatures. As with all penguins, the wings are modified into flippers to aid in swimming. Since they ingest sea water with their prey, a salt-excreting gland has evolved to filter out the salt. The gland’s function is similar to that of the kidneys, though it is much more efficient at removing salt and allowing penguins to survive without access to fresh water. Contrary to popular belief, the gland does not directly convert saltwater to freshwater. The term supraorbital refers to the area just above the eye socket (which is known as the orbit of the eye.)

Special Interests

The Magellanic penguin is the most numerous of the penguins in the Spheniscus genus. Their nearest relatives are the African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), the Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) and the Galapagos penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus). They are native to the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America, hence the common name’s origin.



Millions of these penguins still live along the coasts of Argentina and Chile. However, the species is classified as “Threatened” due to the vulnerability of large breeding colonies to oil spills. Each year oil spills kill 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles off the coast of Argentina. To help orphaned chicks, zoo representatives from all over the world come and adopt the hatchlings. Climate change has displaced fish populations, so Magellanic penguins must swim an extra 25 miles (40 km) further from the nest for fish. While the penguins are swimming an extra 50 miles (80.4 km) round trip, their mates are sitting on a nest and starving. A colony being tracked by University of Washington professor P. Dee Boersma about 1,000 miles (1,609 km) south of Buenos Aires has fallen by more than 20 percent in the past 22 years, leaving just 200,000 breeding pairs. Some younger penguins are now moving their breeding colonies north to be closer to fish, but, in some cases, this is putting them on private, unprotected lands. At present, 12 of 17 penguin species are experiencing rapid population declines.

Jacksonville Zoo History

Magellanic penguins first arrived at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens in 2010.


Play Park Exhibit Area