Falklands Conservation

Falklands Penguins

Penguins in the Falklands: Species & History
King Penguin
Gentoo Penguin
Rockhopper Penguin
Magellanic Penguin
Macaroni Penguin

Penguins in the Falklands: Species & History

Fifteen million penguins live in the South Atlantic (excluding sub-Antarctic and Antarctic areas). A large proportion of these are to be found in the the Falkland Islands which hold the world's largest concentration of Rockhopper Penguins and a quarter of the world population of Gentoo penguins, with three other breeding species (King, Magellanic and Macaroni).

Penguins are among the most popular of birds today yet they were exploited by mankind in the Falkland Islands for at least two centuries. Millions were slaughtered for their oil from late in the 18th century. Eggs of all four species of penguin have been taken for food since men reached the Falklands. In 1871 a colony of Rockhoppers at Sparrow Cove near Stanley yielded 25,000 eggs, but none breed there today.

In the present century the coastal breeding sites and a flightless, aquatic life style make penguins highly vulnerable to oil pollution, entanglement in marine debris and changes in the marine ecosystem. Falkland waters are already subject to large scale commercial fisheries. The imminent exploration for oil in Falkland waters makes research into the at sea distribution status and life style of penguins an urgent priority.

King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

The King Penguin is at the edge of its global range in the Falkland Islands, and its population (400 pairs - 1995/96) is almost entirely concentrated at one site, Volunteer Point (East Falkland). They make no nest, and instead hold the single egg on their feet for the entire incubation period of about 55 days. As the complete breeding cycle takes about 14 months a pair will generally only breed twice in three years. They feed mainly on small myctophid fish, but there has been little work done to determine their diet in the Falklands. It is the only penguin in the region increasing in numbers, partly fuelled by immigration.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

The Gentoo Penguin is scattered in small colonies throughout the Islands which are the second most important breeding centre in the world for this species, resident year round and restricted to close inshore at all times. The total Falklands population is estimated at 65,000 pairs (1995/96). They are ground nesting, making rudimentary nests from stones, sticks, grass, or feathers. The young form into creches during January prior to undergoing their moult into adult waterproof plumage. Gentoos are opportunistic feeders, taking roughly equal proportions of fish, lobster krill and squid. They are potentially affected by commercial trawl fisheries. Gentoos are facing mixed fortunes with population declines and low breeding success in some parts of the Islands, contributing to an overall decline in the Falklands population which may be as great as 40% over the last 20 years.

Gentoo Penguins at Volunteer Beach: Aspects of Breeding Biology

Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome)

The Rockhopper Penguin is noisy, quarrelsome and the smallest penguin breeding in the Falklands. It is adept at climbing very steep rock faces in a series of bounds with both feet together. Close-packed colonies on rocky cliffs can be enormous, numbering many thousands of breeding pairs, often in association with Black-browed Albatross or King Shags. They are opportunistic feeders, taking varying proportions of crustaceans (Euphausia lucens, E valentini, Thysanoessa gregaria and Themisto sp.), squid (Gonatus antarcticus, Teuthowenia sp. and Loligo gahi) and some fish and have a greater foraging range than Gentoos putting them more at risk from interaction with the offshore fisheries and pollution. The Falklands, with a breeding population population estimated at 300,000 pairs at 36 sites (1995/96) is the most important site in the world. Birds return from their winter pelagic wanderings (where their distribution is unknown) in October to lay two eggs, the first being smaller than the second. Adults and young having moulted they depart to sea, the breeding sites being deserted by mid-April. Rockhoppers have declined very significantly in the Falklands where populations now may only be about 10% of those in the 1930s; these declines are still continuing. At the recent (1996) local evaluation, the species was formally classified as "vulnerable".

Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

The Magellanic Penguin is a summer resident (population estimated at 100,000 pairs) which arrives to breed in the Islands in September. It nests in burrows excavated 4 - 6 feet deep. The local name of Jackass is derived from its loud braying call, frequently uttered at the entrance to the burrow, and also heard from birds afloat offshore. This species takes small crustceans, small fish and smaller species of squid than are fished commercially. Their foraging range however brings them into possible conflict with commercial fisheries and other marine operations. They leave their nests in April, presumably wintering in waters of the Patagonian Shelf, possibly migrating as far north as Brazil. Here they face problems such as disturbance and oil pollution with some 20,000 adults and 22,000 juveniles estimated to be killed along the Argentine coast each year. Numbers in the Falklands have recently shown a decline of up to 10% for each year, but populations of burrowing species are very difficult to assess. The Falkland Islands are one of the most important breeding sites in the world and, given the problems faced by this species in Chile and Argentina, the survival of healthy Falklands populations may be disproportionately important to the health of the species generally.

Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

The Macaroni is the most numerous penguin species in the world (population about nine million). The Falklands are however at the northern limit of its breeding range with a population in the region of 100 pairs. It has a lifestyle which resembles the Rockhopper's and is found in small numbers at Rockhopper colonies well-spread around the coasts of both East and West Falkland. Interbreeding with Rockhoppers has been recorded on several occasions. Macaronis don't breed until they are at least 6 - 7 years old and have a low reproductive rate (effectively one egg per year). They are vulnerable to environmental change whether directly (disturbance, pollution, fishing), or indirectly (global warming) caused by man's activities.

Falklands Conservation UK Charity 1073859
Patron: HRH The Duke of York CVO ADC
Member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature | BirdLife International Representative