Wildlife Watch: Humboldt Penguin

May 28, 2014

The Humboldt penguin is very similar in both size and appearance to the more southerly Magellanic penguin. When observed from the front, they are quite easily distinguished by looking at the dark chest band or bands depending on the species. The Humboldt penguin has a single black chest band on an otherwise white chest and belly whereas the Magellanic penguin has two black chest bands.

Humboldt penguins are penguin
s of the Humboldt Current which flows from south to north from southern Chile up to Ecuador, where it turns abruptly west and bathes the Galapagos Islands in food-rich up-welling. The range of the Humboldt penguin is from central coastal Peru to Los Lagos, Chile. These adoring penguins are fearless climbers at their nesting sites and their burrows are often amid cactus or in large sea caverns that allow for elevations above the high tide mark. It is a very strange sight to see penguins in or around large clumps of cactus and it just does not seem a likely habitat for what is usually thought of as a “cold loving” species. This being said, the Humboldt Current is a cold current that is fed from the Southern Ocean, so a dip in the ocean allows the Humboldt penguin to thermo-regulate very effectively.

Humboldt penguins spend the entire Austral winter at sea, thus they are known as “pelagic” birds. While at sea, they feed on small slender fish, small squid as well as crustaceans captured at depths up to 200 feet. Penguins at sea float horizontal to the ocean surface thus appear very long. Often the head is held at a slight upward angle with the beak the highest point and their short little tails are often chocked upwards as well. It is always a pleasure to see a small group of penguins “rafting” on the surface. Sometimes they become very inquisitive and may approach quite closely to boats as long as the boat is not u
nderway. 

Of special note: There are many birders who quest to observe the entire world’s 18 species of penguin. It is quite a quest and one that I would take great pleasure in accomplishing as well. Thus far, on International Expedition nature tours, I have observed 10 species, so I am just one species beyond the half-way mark. I am hopeful that future trips will allow for observations of the other eight species. IE's expanded Patagonia tours take-in the world's most accessible colony of king penguins in the wild at Porvenir, adding to my list.


Naturalist Greg Greer is a favorite among IE travelers, and has gained a reputation for his friendliness and good humor, along with his incomparable knowledge of natural history. Greg's photos and articles have been widely published in books and magazines, including Georgia Outdoor News, Bird Watcher’s Digest, Alabama Outdoor News, Riversedge and Southern Wildlife.