Blue Zoo: Macaroni Penguin

Featuring one amazing marine animal per week.

The macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) is one of several species of crested penguins, which are named for the feathers that make it look like they’re wearing crowns. 

The macaroni penguin has one of the most noticeable crests, and was named after 18th century British “macaronis,” flamboyantly dressed men.

Photo by Jerzy Strzeleki via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons License. 

They’re among the largest penguin species, reaching up to approximately 28 inches (70cm) tall. Like all penguins, this species can’t fly and uses its modified wings as flippers to swim instead. Macaroni penguins spend most of the year at sea, hunting krill and other small fish and crustaceans.

Photo by Liam Quinn via Flickr, Creative Commons License.

Around October they gather on land in large colonies to breed. These colonies are mainly located on various islands in the Southern Ocean, and in the South Atlantic and southern Indian Oceans. One can be found on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the largest colony is on South Georgia Island.

During breeding season, the birds can be seen in monogamous pairs that are long-lasting. They typically build a rock-lined nest, sometimes also using grass. The pair lays one small egg, which almost never successfully hatches. Then they lay a large egg, which is the one that they incubate together in shifts. While one parent is keeping the egg warm, the other parent goes out to sea to hunt for food. (Click here for a video of the impressive ordeal the penguins may face getting to shore in heavy surf.)

Despite having a very large population – the largest of any penguin species, in fact – their population has declined rapidly over the last several decades.The macaroni penguin is classified as a Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List.

The introduction of invasive predators to the islands where they live, like cats and rats, are causing problems by hunting the birds and their eggs. The macaroni penguin also suffers because of overfishing of krill, which is its main source of food. Oil spills are a big issue, too, and in the future there may be additional declines caused by climate change.

Photo by Lieutenant Elizabeth Crapo, NOAA Corps. via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain. 

Photo by Liam Quinn via Flickr, Creative Commons License. 

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