Antarctic birds: Chinstrap Penguin

Where the Gentoo Penguin is most likely the most numerous penguin travellers to the Antarctic Peninsula will see, for birdwatchers who are not too seasick, the Chinstrap Penguin might well be the first penguin they see. They breed on the South Shetland Islands (and on a few places on the Peninsula itself) and we often see it swimming far out in the Drake Passage (if the waves are not too high, that is).

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Chinstrap Penguin at Madder Cliffs

Chinstrap Penguins are black and white (what a surprise for a penguin) but are easily separated from the other brush-tails by their white face and the fine black line under their beak (their ‘chin strap’). They are, like the Gentoo Penguins, a bit more of a subantarctic species, but do venture further south as the Gentoos. During trips to Antarctica, we see them in sometimes quite massive colonies in the South Shetland Islands and a few smaller ones on the Peninsula and South Georgia. If you’re lucky enough to visit the South Sandwich Islands, you might even find bigger colonies.

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Chinstrap Penguin with a pebble

Just like the other brush-tail penguins (Gentoo and Adélie Penguin), they need snow- and ice-free land to breed and they make their nest with pebbles. So they can be found walking around with pebbles all around the colony, especially early in the season. When the breeding season is over, usually somewhere in February/March, the chicks leave the colony and the adults stay a bit longer to moult their feathers before they leave for a winter at open sea as well. During this time, they can’t go into the water and look quite scruffy, with their dirty, old feathers still hanging on them, but not enough new feathers yet to go into the water.

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Chinstrap Penguin moulting

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