The Macaroni Penguin is a species of penguin closely related to the Rockhopper Penguin. It is the most numerous of all the worlds penguins, with an estimated world population of over 9 million breeding pairs. The Macaroni Penguin breeds in at least 216 colonies at 50 sites, including southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands.
Other breeding places include Bouvet Island, Prince Edward Islands of South Africa, Crozet Islands, Kerguelen Islands, Heard Island and McDonald Islands and very locally on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Macaroni Penguin Characteristics
Though similar to their crested cousins, Macaroni penguins are larger and can be distinguished by their yellow-orange tassels which originate in a broad band across the forehead meeting right between their eyes. Most easily confused with Royal penguins, Macaroni penguins have mostly black faces whereas Royal penguins generally have white faces.
Macaroni Penguin Diet
Macaroni penguins eat crustaceans (mostly krill), fish and squid. Prey is caught by pursuit-diving normally at depths of 50 to 200 feet, although they have been recorded diving down to 300 feet on occasions. Some night foraging does occur, however, dives are much shallower, ranging from only ten to twenty feet in depth. Dives rarely exceed two minutes in duration.
Macaroni Penguin Behaviour
Macaroni penguins breed in summer. Their tightly packed colonies are generally established on flat or rough sloping ground, with nesting pairs often seeking the shelter and protection of boulders or tussock grass. These colonies, which can be immense, raucous affairs, are completely deserted in winter.
Macaroni Penguin Reproduction
During the breeding season, two eggs are laid, the first is smaller than the second and is less likely to hatch. Incubation of the second egg is performed by both male and female macaroni penguins. They each take long shifts warming and guarding the egg while the other is off feeding. The egg usually hatches within four to five weeks. For the first three to four weeks after hatching, the male Macaroni penguin cares for the down-covered chick while the female brings regurgitated food daily.
By the end of this period, the chicks form nursery groups with other chicks called ‘crèches’ where they huddle together for warmth and protection while the parents are away hunting for food. The parents often do not return to the nest site until just before dark. In about ten weeks the young birds will have grown their adult feathers and will be ready to head out and become independent.
Macaroni Penguin Predators
Macaroni penguins have several natural predators. Leopard seals, sea lions and orcas (killer whales) will occasionally take adults at sea, while gulls, skuas, petrels and other shore birds patrol breeding sites for unattended eggs and young.
Macaroni Penguin Conservation
Despite its large population, the Macaroni Penguin has been classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife International, as its population has been reduced by at least 30% over three generations. The main threats to its breeding grounds are those common to all Southern Ocean species, such as the existing and potential impact of commercial fishing, ocean warming and oil pollution.