Humboldt Penguins, Spheniscus humboldti
Taxonomy Animalia Chordata Aves Sphenisciformes Spheniscidae Spheniscus humboldti
Description & Behavior
Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti (Meyen, 1834), are named after the Humboldt current, a cold, nutrient-rich current of water that runs from along the west coast of South America from northern Peru to the southern tip of Chile. Humboldts are a medium-sized penguin with black heads, backs, and tails and a characteristic black upside-down horseshoe-shaped band across their chest that extends down either side of their white belly to their black feet. Their head and face are also black with a white band that extends beneath the chin and over their eyes. They have a black bill with a pink flesh-colored patch that extends to the eyes. Females are slightly smaller that the males. Juvenile Humboldt penguins have a dark gray head and back and a white belly. Humboldt penguins are similar in size to Magellanic penguins, having an average length of about 70 cm and an average weight of 4 kg. Their eyes are reddish brown and their bills are slightly larger than those of Magellanics.
World Range & Habitat
Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, are found on islands and along the rocky coasts of Peru and Chile. A few have been spotted as far north as Colombia.
Feeding Behavior (Ecology)
Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, take advantage of the nutrient-rich waters of their namesake, the Humboldt current, where they feed on small fish, krill, and squid. They have been recorded diving to depths of 150 m, however the average dive is no deeper than 60 m.
Spheniscus humboldti primarily breed from March-April or September-October, depending on their location. Nests are made of burrows in the sand or small crevices in the rocks. Females lay 2 eggs between 2-4 days apart that are incubated by both parents for about 40 days. Unlike other penguin species where only one egg is successfully incubated, Humboldt penguins typically incubate both eggs, which hatch about 2 days apart. The chicks are fed by one parent until they grow a thick, downy plumage. They remain in the nest for about 12 weeks until they fledge and forage along the coast until they return to the breeding colony to build their own nest when they reach sexual maturity after about 2 years. Like other penguin species, they often return to the same breeding colony where they were born.
Conservation Status & Comments
Humboldt penguins are at-risk of declining food availability due to overfishing, particularly the anchovy fisheries off the coast of South America. This species' population has also declined due habitat destruction following the harvesting of guano for fertilizer; guano is a critical part of the habitat used for nesting. In addition, El Niño-related events in recent years have disturbed the ecosystem of the Humboldt Current by increasing the water temperature, which reduces its nutrient-value and by increasing severe storms that have devastated nesting colonies. These threats have reduced the population size of Humboldt penguins to about 10,000 birds in the wild.
Humboldt penguins, Spheniscus humboldti, are listed as Vulnerable (VU A2bcde+3bcde+4bcde; C1+2b) on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species:
A taxon is Vulnerable when the best available evidence indicates that it meets any of the criteria A to E for Vulnerable (see Section V), and it is therefore considered to be facing a high risk of extinction in the wild.
References & Further Research
Research Spheniscus humboldti » Barcode of Life ~ BioOne ~ Biodiversity Heritage Library ~ CITES ~ Cornell Macaulay Library [audio / video] ~ Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) ~ ESA Online Journals ~ FishBase ~ Florida Museum of Natural History Ichthyology Department ~ GBIF ~ Google Scholar ~ ITIS ~ IUCN RedList (Threatened Status) ~ Marine Species Identification Portal ~ NCBI (PubMed, GenBank, etc.) ~ Ocean Biogeographic Information System ~ PLOS ~ SIRIS ~ Tree of Life Web Project ~ UNEP-WCMC Species Database ~ WoRMS
Feedback & Citation
Start or join a discussion about this species below or send us an email to report any errors or submit suggestions for this page. We greatly appreciate all feedback!
Help Protect and Restore Ocean Life
Help us protect and restore marine life by supporting our various online community-centered marine conservation projects that are effectively sharing the wonders of the ocean with millions each year around the world, raising a balanced awareness of the increasingly troubling and often very complex marine conservation issues that affect marine life and ourselves directly, providing support to marine conservation groups on the frontlines that are making real differences today, and the scientists, teachers and students involved in the marine life sciences.
With your support, most marine life and their ocean habitats can be protected, if not restored to their former natural levels of biodiversity. We sincerely thank our thousands of members, donors and sponsors, who have decided to get involved and support the MarineBio Conservation Society.