Antarctic birds: Gentoo Penguin

It’s November, time for some Antarctic wildlife. After my (still unfinished) series on Arctic birds, now a series of blog posts of the birds of Antarctica. And, of course, what birds are the first one thinks of when talking about Antarctica: exactly, penguins. So here the first part, about Gentoo Penguins.

As most Antarctic visitors join an expedition cruise, the penguin they will see most is the Gentoo Penguin. The main aim for those cruises is the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Gentoo Penguin is by far the most common species in that part of Antarctica.

Ezelspinguin; Gentoo Penguin; Pygoscelis papua
Gentoo Penguins at Jougla Point

Gentoo Penguins are easily recognisable by their black and white plumage with a white flash above the eye and bright orange beak and feet. They make a donkey-like sound, resulting in the German and Dutch name of ‘Donkey Penguin’. They are actually more a Subantarctic species of penguin, breeding in a belt all around Antarctica, with the Peninsula the only place where they actually breed on the White Continent itself. They typically produce two eggs and make their nest with pebbles. They start breeding as soon as they can find snow-free patches of land and, as with other species of brush-tail penguins, there is fierce competition over those pebbles. They can either be found under the snow, underwater or in the nest of their neighbour. But the males do need stones to impress the females. This is often fun to watch. When a new pebble is brought to the nest, there is a small ceremony where the male offers the pebble to the female and adds it to the nest. The female nicely thanks the male for this. However, sometimes it turns out to be too complicated to steal a new pebble for the male, then he just pretends to present a new stone, and still gets thanked by the female.

Gentoo Penguin on a nest

As the Gentoo Penguin is a bit more a Subantarctic species and not dependent on ice for feeding, they are doing very well in the changing Antarctic Peninsula. Their population is increasing, and they are slowly moving further south down the Peninsula. Like most species in Antarctica, they feed primarily on krill.

Arjen Drost

Arjen is a Polar ecologist, nature photographer and full time expedition guide on expedition cruise ships in both Polar regions. With his pictures and stories he likes to show the beauty of these very fragile and threatened places.

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