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Penguin Species Series #17 - The Humboldt Penguin

Guest Blogger - Charles Bergman

Humboldt Penguin, Spheniscus humboldti


Coolest Fact: The Humboldt Penguin is named after the great explorer and scientist, Alexander von Humboldt. As a result of his South American voyage, 1799-1804, he was an enormously influential scientist. Humboldt invented the concept of ecological communities in Ecuador, for example. He also gave the first scientific description of the cold-water current that comes up from Antarctica, along the west coast of South America, and to the Galápagos Islands. This current supports the penguins on South America’s west coast.


Where It’s Found: Northern Chile and Peru


Crucial Facts:

· IUCN Status: Vulnerable.

· Population: Steep declines over last century. Reliable census data lacking. Perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 breeding birds.

· Mating: Strongly monogamous.

· Nesting: Nests made in scrapes, burrows, caves, crevasses. Clutch of 2 eggs.

· Annual Cycle: Adults spend months at sea, returning to chick raising in September.

· Life span: About 20 years.

· Food: Target species vary with location, including anchovy, mackerel, squid.

· Threats: Extremely vulnerable to climate variation and El Niño. Guano collection had devastating effects on population. Ongoing conflicts with fisheries.


Our First Sighting: January 30, 2015

Islas Ballestas, Peru


Our Story:

The Humboldt Penguin is very closely related to the Magellanic Penguin. Susan and I saw this species on the southwest coast of Peru. We took a bus to the town of Paracas. There, very popular boat tours take you to the Islas Ballestas which support huge numbers of nesting seabirds. On the way out, the excursion passes the enormous prehistoric “Candelabra Geoglyph,” about 150 meters high and 50 meters wide. It dates from 200 B.C.E.


The islands themselves are an astonishing place to see penguins. They look more like desert islands than a penguin place. The islands are desolate, without vegetation, and seared by the hot sun. They are, however, crowded with seabirds. Humboldt Penguins are interspersed among Inca terns, guanay cormorants, Peruvian pelicans, and other seabird species. Humboldt penguins contradict our stereotypical misconceptions of penguins as creatures of Antarctica and ice.


This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”

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