Everyone loves the Humboldt Penguins! They might look funny when they waddle on land, but they are far from helpless. With the help of some very special adaptations they are masters of survival and can swim at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour!
However, over-fishing and habitat destruction have left the Humboldt Penguin vulnerable. Numbers are declining. The current population of the Spheniscus genus, which resides in the temperate waters of the Humboldt Current off Peru and Chile, may be up to 12,000 strong. Other estimates have their numbers at 3,300.
But did you know that they live in guano burrows and can drink sea water?
The Humboldt Penguin is also known as the Peruvian Penguin or Patranca. They live for up to 20 years in the wild and have been known to live as long as 30 in captivity. They are perfectly adapted to a life in the ocean. They use their wings as flippers to fly through the water just below the surface at amazing speeds and steer with their feet and tail! Their feathers help too: they are stiff and overlap to waterproof and insulate the body.
The Humboldt, like all penguins, also has great eyesight and can see under water as well as they can on land. This enables them to go after their favourite prey - small fish such as anchovies, herring and smelt as well as crustaceans and squid – which they catch with the added help of their spiny tongues. This stops the fish getting away!
We might not be able to tell one Humboldt Penguin from another but they can – thanks to each one’s unique voice (and their brilliant eyesight). This is useful when you consider that they live in large, noisy but sociable colonies on islands and rocky coasts. They build nests close together in guano, the excrement of seabirds, bats and seals! It’s a good plan! The guano helps to regulate the penguins’ body temperature in the varying conditions of their temperate climate and provides protection for young and eggs.
Humboldts are caring parents and share the job of incubating their eggs. They reach sexual maturity between 2 and 7 years and can breed at any time of the year. This can depend on the availability of food. Females lay one, two or three eggs but share the egg sitting duties with the male for about 40 days. Once the chick is born they take turns to forage for food whilst the other cares for the chick. It isn’t until the chick is about 2 months old that they can be left during the day. If chicks are born during lean times the parents’ instinct for survival of the fittest means they will feed only the biggest chick.
Dangers to the Humboldt are many. As well as the loss of their food sources through over-fishing and the destruction and loss of their habitats, their population faces many dangers: ocean storms can flood their burrows, guano harvesters can trample their burrows, gulls can steal their eggs and they can get tangled in fishing nets.
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