Humboldt penguinScientific Name Spheniscus humboldti     

Conservation Status Vulnerable


The Humboldt penguin is a medium sized penguin species measuring 56-70cm (22-28in) tall. They weigh between 3.6 and 5.9kg (8-13lbs).

On their front they are white with specks of black feathers. From the feet and running up under the arms in a horseshoe of black feathers. Their back is black as is the face. Around this is a ring of white feathers. The beak is black with a grey stripe running along the beak close to the tip. At the face the beak is coloured pink. Their feet are black as are the flippers.


In the wild these penguins live for between 15 and 20 years. Half of chicks though do not live for more than a year. In captivity it is possible for them to live for up to 50 years.


Humboldt penguins are carnivores. Their main food source is fish (with anchovies and pilchards forming a major portion of their diet) but they will also feed upon squid and krill.

They get their water from drinking salt water. The salt is filtered out of this by the supraorbital gland above the eye and this is expelled through the nose.

Humboldt penguinHabitat

Chile and Peru are the native home of the Humboldt penguin. They have also been known to stray into Ecuador and Colombia. Some small colonies also exist on the Punihuil Islands.

Their home is made on the rocky islands and coastlines of this area. Most of their time is spent in the water though returning to the shore only to rest and breed.


Breeding occurs either between March and April or September and October for this species dependent on location. Pairs are monogamous and males are responsible for making the nest. This is built in sand or guano or a crevice in a cave. The female returns a few days after the male and uses vocalizations to find her mate and their nest.

At times males may lose their mates. On occasions they have been known to force pairs out of their nest in a process known as usurping. They will then force out the male and take his mate.

On occasion pairs of males have been known to pair bond. These males may then take over abandoned nests and raise the chicks on their own.

Females deposit two eggs into the nest which then take 39 days to hatch. Both adult parents will sit on the nest during this time. The two eggs will often have a couple of days in between hatching. Chicks are born with thick downy feathers.

Humboldt PenguinThe parents provide care to their chicks for approximately three months. They do not leave the nest till this time. At this point they are ready to fledge and make their first trip out to sea. To feed the chicks parents go out to sea to forage and then return to regurgitate the food for the chicks. They will also take longer trips to feed themselves.

Sexually maturity is achieved at 2 years old. When chicks are ready to mate they often do so at the same place where they were born.


Prior to mating the penguins will come to the shore for their molt. This is where their feathers are replaced and for two weeks they are not waterproof. During this time they must remain on the shore and do not eat.

Humboldt penguins form large colonies. These will do most things together with the exclusion of foraging.

When swimming the Humboldt penguin may reach speeds of up 32 km/hr (20mph). They are able to dive to 150m (492ft) but rarely go past 60m (197ft). When hunting they may spend a number of days at sea.

These penguins have three calls a contact call, display call and threat call.

Predators of the Humboldt penguin include sharks, sea lions and fur seals while at sea. On land their nests may be raided by feral cats, domestic dogs, foxes, gulls, snakes and rodents. Their main defense is the large colonies which they live in.

Quick facts

Humboldt penguins are also referred to as the Peruvian Penguin and the Patranca.

These penguins are named for the Humboldt current which flows down the coastline where they live. This is in turn named for naturalist Alexander von Humboldt.

During 2012 a penguin escaped from Tokyo Sea Life Park in Japan. Known as #337 he was recaptured during May 2012 after 82 days of living in Tokyo Bay.

Photo Credits:

Top By John5199 (Humboldt Penguin Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Middle By Beatriz Posada Alonso (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Bottom Joe Mabel [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons