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Overview

Brief Summary

Description

Humboldt penguins are named after the cold current of water running from the Antarctic to the equator along the west coast of South America (itself named after the German naturalist Friedrich Humboldt). Humboldt penguins are medium-sized penguins with proportionately large heads, black backs and tails, and a black band across the chest that runs down the body beneath the flippers to the black feet. The face is also black, but separated from the head and neck by a white border. The strong bill is black with a white band near the tip and the lower mandible has a pink fleshy-coloured base extending to the front of the eyes (6) (7). Females are slightly smaller than the males but are otherwise similar. Juvenile birds are predominantly slate grey across the head and back, white at the front, and lack the bold double stripe of the adults (6).
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Biology

These penguins are monogamous and can be found in their breeding colonies throughout the year although the main breeding seasons are from March to April and September to October, depending on the location (3) (7). The birds dig burrows into the sand or guano cliffs, or find small crevices in which to lay the eggs. Two eggs are laid over a period of two to four days, incubation taking between 40 and 42 days, with both adult birds sharing nest duties. The chicks usually hatch two days apart and are fed by both adults once they have acquired their first thick downy coats (3). Chicks rarely leave their nest scrape until they are fledged at about 12 weeks. They then fend for themselves along the coast for several months before returning to establish their own nests, often within the same colony where they were reared. They reach maturity at the age of two years (3). Humboldt penguins exploit the cold waters off the South American west coast for food. The Humboldt Current flows northwards from Antarctica, and provides a rich harvest of fish, particularly anchovies, but the birds also feed on other fish species, krill and squid. Although they can reach depths of 150 metres, the birds rarely dive deeper than 60 metres (3). These penguins have been popular exhibits in zoos for many years and have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity. They rarely reach this age in the wild (3).
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Distribution

Range Description

Spheniscus humboldti occurs in coastal Peru and Chile with vagrants recorded north to Colombia (Morales Sanchez 1988). It has been declining since the mid-19th century, but the 1982-1983 El Nio Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reduced the population from 19,000-21,000 birds to 5,180-6,080 (Hays 1984, Hays 1986, Ellis et al. 1998). By 1995-1996, this had increased to 10,000-12,000 birds (Cheney 1998). The 1997-1998 ENSO resulted in further declines to 3,300 birds (P. Majluf in litt. 1999). In Peru, the number of colonies declined from 17 in 1981 to two in 1996 (Ellis et al. 1998), but had recovered to six by 1999 (T. Valqui in litt. 1999). In 2000, 78% of the total Peruvian population of 4,425 birds was clustered in just five colonies (Paredes et al. 2003). A survey in 2004 estimated a total population of around 5,000 individuals, with birds present at 21 sites, 16 of which were considered breeding sites, although only 6 of these held more than 200 birds (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). The size and distribution of colonies in Peru changed considerably during the period 1984-1999, with proportionally more on the southern coast and fewer in the north and central coastal areas in 1999 (Paredes et al. 2003). In Chile, it has bred at 14 sites, but at only 10 recently (Ellis et al. 1998). Surveys in 2002 found nesting at 9 islands, with a total population of 9,000 pairs, 7,000 of which were at Chaaral Island. A repeat visit to Chaaral in 2003 recorded 20,000 individuals, mostly moulting (Ayala et al. 2007). In 1998, a population and habitat viability analysis suggested that extinction was likely within 100 years (Cheney 1998).

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Spheniscus humboldti inhabit the coastal regions of Peru and Chile. These regions are temperate in climate (Welch 1994). These birds are well known in the Humboldt current from Peru to south of Chile on the coast and offshore islands (Villouta, et al., 1997).

Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )

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Range

Humboldt Current region of coastal n Peru to s Chile.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historic Range:


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Range

This species is found along the coasts of Peru and Chile within the reaches of the Humboldt Current. Some birds have been recorded as vagrants northwards off Columbia (2). There are also isolated colonies further to the south on the Punihuil Islands (3).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Spheniscus humboldti are black and white in color with pink around the eyes and on the beak. The feet are webbed and serve as a rudder. There are also claws at the end of the toes for climbing. The feathers are in two layers. The top layer is flat and overlaps the second layer to stop the wind and water from penetrating to the body. The second down layer is for insulation. The wings evolved into flippers for flying through the water. The bones are solid and act as a ballast while diving (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). The body is in the shape of a streamlined torpedo covered by the short waterproof feathers (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). They are able to swim swiftly through the water by the aid of hard flippers or wings (The Aquatic Creatures 2002). Spheniscus humboldti is also called the Peruvian penguin. It is 38 to 45 centimeters (18 to 15 inches) in height and weighs about 4 kg (9 pounds) (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001).

Average mass: 4000 g.

Range length: 38 (low) cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
Breeding site It nests on islands and rocky coastal stretches, burrowing holes in guano and occasionally using scrape nests or caves (Cheney 1998, Ellis et al. 1998). It apparently prefers to breed on slopes at high elevation sites where guano deposits are available for burrow excavation (Paredes and Zavalaga 2001). Reproductive behaviour Breeding occurs year-round, but has two peaks, in May and July and from September to December. Reproductive success is reported as low, especially in Chile (Cheney 1998), though considerably higher at one rookery in Peru (Punta San Juan) (Paredes and Zavalaga 2001). Migratory range There may be an extended migration route of c.700 km from Peru to north Chile, and adult birds regularly disperse up to 170 km in Peru and occasionally over 600 km (Culik and Luna-Jorquera 1997, Wallace et al. 1999). Diet It feeds on schooling anchoveta Engraulis ringens, squid and other small fish, mainly caught in inshore waters, with failed breeders travelling further afield, as do breeders during ENSO years (Taylor et al. 2004). Foraging range Humboldt Penguins are central place foragers during the breeding season, since they must return to their nests between foraging trips. As a pelagic predator, the Humboldt Penguin is highly dependent on predictable food resources in coastal waters near its nesting sites (Taylor et al. 2001). It typically makes short, shallow dives within 30 m of the surface (Taylor et al. 2001). At Isla Pan de Azcar, Chile, it was found that maximum dive depth was 53 m. Mean distance travelled during foraging trips was 26.5 km, with a minimum and maximum distance of 8.1 and 68.7 km respectively. 90% of the birds remained within 35 km of their breeding colony (Culik et al. 1998, Luna-Jorquera and Culik 1999). At Punta San Juan, Peru, the average maximum distance from the colony of all foraging trips was 19.8 km (Boersma et al. 2006). Following breeding failure, non-breeding birds take longer foraging trips, make deeper and longer dives and dive less often per hour at sea than do breeding birds (Taylor et al. 2002). Mean and maximum foraging trip duration were both significantly longer in failed breeders than in breeding birds (Taylor et al. 2004).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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On land Spheniscus humboldti lives in burrows composed of soil and rock or in crevices in rocks (Welch 1994). Spheniscus humboldti breed in large colonies. They spend most of their time at sea and rarely come back to land (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

Range depth: 1000 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; polar ; saltwater or marine

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Humboldt penguins nest on rocky coasts and islands with suitable terrain for constructing nest burrows (2) (7).
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Trophic Strategy

Spheniscus humbldti are inshore feeders; they forage for small fish and crustaceans. They circle around the prey and attack from the side swallowing it head first (Welch 1994). The mouth and tongue have backward pointed spines to hold fish (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). El Nino storms destroy large regions of nesting areas by causing rough surf that washes away nests. The affects on the temperature of the sea is an increase which can reduce the food supply (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

Animal Foods: fish; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore , Eats non-insect arthropods)

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Associations

Spheniscus humboldti live on the coast and gather soil, rocks, and sometimes grasses, to build their nests. These nests are created using their wings and feet to push and mold a nest (Welch 1994).

Ecosystem Impact: creates habitat

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Humboldt penguins are are very agile when swimming. This is their only defense against predators (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). When in the water they can be eaten by leopard seals, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, and killer whales. On land, foxes, snakes, and introduced predators like cats and dogs can prey on the eggs and chicks (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000). Spheniscus humboldti get entangled in fishing nets as well (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

Known Predators:

  • humans (Homo sapiens)
  • leopard seals (Hydrurga leptonyx)
  • sharks (Chondrichthyes)
  • killer whales (Orcinus orca)
  • foxes (Canidae)
  • snakes (Serpentes)
  • domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
  • domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)
  • fur seals (Otariidae)
  • sea lions (Otariidae)

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The average life span is 15 to 20 years for Spheniscus humboldti and there is a high mortality rate among the young (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

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Reproduction

One male breeds with one female during the mating season (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

Mating System: monogamous

The most abundant breeding happens around the availability of food and of breeding sites. Egg laying occurs throughout the year (Welch 1994). Once a mate is acquired the pair initiates copulation after displays of behavior (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). Spheniscus humboldti begin breeding at about three years of age. The male arrives at the nesting area a few days before the female to prepare the breeding site. The female arrives and lays two white eggs that she incubates for 39 days (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). The major causes of egg loss are from flooding of nests during ocean storms, accidental breakage, and clutch desertion and predation by gulls (International Conservation Work Group 2001). Chicks poke a small hole through the egg then chip the shell off. This can take up to three days. (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

Breeding season: Breeding occurs throughout the year.

Average eggs per season: 2.

Average time to hatching: 39 days.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 3 years.

Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; year-round breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Chicks require attentive parents. They depend on the parents for survival between hatching and growing waterproof feathers. Once a chick has done this it can enter the water and become independent (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

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Physiology and Cell Biology

Physiology

Kin-recognition using olfactory cues

Most birds are thought to have severely reduced sense of smell comparated to other vertebrates.  Recent experiments, however, suggest that both Humboldt Penguins and Zebra Finches can distinguish the odors of their relatives from those of non-relatives. In the penguin experiment (Coffin et al. 2011), birds preferred the scent of familiar non-relatives such as nest mates.  Young finches, on the other hand, prefer the scent of their genetic parents even when raised in foster nests (Krause et al. 2012).

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Spheniscus humboldti

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 2 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

CGATGATTATTCTCAACCAACCACAAAGACATTGGCACCCTTTACCTAATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCAGGCATAGCCGGAACCGCTCTC---AGCCTGCTCATCCGCGCAGAACTCGGTCAACCCGGAACCCTCCTAGGAGAT---GACCAGATCTACAATGTAATTGTCACCGCCCATGCCTTCGTAATAATCTTCTTCATAGTAATACCTATTATAATCGGAGGATTTGGAAACTGACTAGTTCCACTTATA---ATCGGCGCCCCCGACATAGCATTTCCCCGCATAAATAACATAAGCTTTTGACTACTACCTCCCTCCTTCCTACTCCTACTAGCCTCCTCCACAGTAGAAGCAGGAGCCGGCACAGGATGAACCGTATACCCACCGTTAGCAGGCAACCTAGCCCATGCCGGCGCATCAGTAGACCTA---GCCATTTTTTCACTCCATCTAGCAGGAATCTCCTCCATCCTAGGAGCAATCAACTTCATCACCACCGCCACTAACATAAAACCCCCAGCCCTATCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTGTTCGTATGATCTGTCCTTATCACAGCTGTCCTCCTACTACTCTCACTTCCCGTACTTGCCGCT---GGCATCACTATGCTACTAACAGACCGAAACCTAAACACCACCTTCTTCGATCCAGCTGGAGGGGGAGACCCAATCCTATACCAGCACCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGTCACCCAGAAGTCTACATCCTAATTCTACCAGGCTTCGGAATCATCTCTCACGTAGTAGCATACTATGCAGGCAAAAAA---GAACCCTTTGGCTACATAGGCATAGTGTGAGCAATACTATCCATCGGATTCCTCGGCTTTATCGTATGAGCTCACCACATATTCACAGTCGGTATAGACGTAGACACCCGAGCGTACTTCACATCCGCCACCATAATTATCGCCATCCCAACTGGCATCAAAGTCTTCAGCTGACTA---GCTACCCTGCATGGAGGA---ACCATCAAATGAGACCCTCCAATACTATGAGCCCTAGGCTTTATCTTCCTCTTCACCATCGGAGGGTTAACGGGCATCGTCCTAGCAAACTCCTCACTGGACATTGCCCTACACGACACATACTATGTAGTTGCCCACTTCCACTATGTC---CTTTCAATAGGGGCTGTCTTTGCCATCCTAGCAGGATTCACCCACTGATTCCCATTATTCACAGGATACACCTTGCACACCACATGAGCCAAAGCCCACTTTGGAGTCATATTCACAGGCGTAAACCTAACCTTCTTCCCACAACACTTCTTAGGCCTAGCTGGCATGCCACGA---CGATATTCCGACTACCCAGACGCCTATACC---ATATGAAACACTATATCATCTATCGGCTCATTAATCTCAATAACTGCAGTAATCATACTCATATTTATTATCTGAGAAGCCTTTACATCAAAACGAAAAGTC---CTACAACCCGAACTAACTGCCACCAAC
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Spheniscus humboldti

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
VU
Vulnerable

Red List Criteria
A2bcde+3bcde+4bcde;C1+2b

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2013

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S.

Contributor/s
Knauf, G., Majluf, P., Roca, M. & Valqui, T.

Justification
This species has undergone extreme population size fluctuations, (close to one order of magnitude) at major colonies in Chile. However, an overall reduction in the number of breeding colonies indicates that there is probably an ongoing, underlying rapid decline in numbers. It consequently qualifies as Vulnerable.


History
  • 2012
    Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Lower Risk/near threatened (LR/nt)
  • Threatened (T)