Species Spotlight

Galapagos Penguin

Names: Galapagos Penguin or Pingüino de Galápagos (Spheniscus mendiculus).

Size: As penguins go, these guys are on the small side: think 4 to 6 pounds of flightless bird, 21 inches tall, weighing roughly the same as a large squash. 

Favourite hangout: Close relatives like burrowing in peaty soil but in the Galapagos lava-scape, that’s not an option. Instead, these diminutive dressed-for-dinner dudes find caves or hidden-away crevices. They’re also cold-water lovers, capable of swimming at 20mph in the Humboldt and Cromwell currents swirling their islands.

Favourite snack: Anchovies, mullet, sardines, aka Fish, and More Fish, please sir!

Love language: When they find The One, these guys love for life. They look for water, shade, rocks, and twigs to make their nests. Since trees are in short supply, lava depressions come in handy… 

If you see them: You’ll know them by the slender ‘C’ of white feathers that runs from their eye to their chin and by their characteristically penguin-like white breasts. But honestly, you won’t (see them), unless you visit the Galapagos. There are no Galapagos penguins in zoos – they’re not big on captivity – and you won’t stumble across them anywhere else in the wild.

Pet peeves: Hawks, sharks, and other regular predators aren’t nice. Still, the arrival of cats and rats was probably these penguins’ worst nightmare! That said, pollution and climate change aren’t great, either. The latter was responsible for El Niño-related fish shortages in 1982-3 and 1997-8, which saw their population drop from 10,000 to fewer than 5,000. It’s still recovering. 

Epic journeys: Humboldt penguins from coastal Chile and Peru are the closest relatives of these unique birds. It’s likely that a few million years back, a bunch of Humboldts caught an ocean current to the Galapagos, and stayed. Over time, they grew used to raising their young’uns on rocks hot enough for a breakfast fry-up!

Growth: Mom and dad share incubation, feeding and guarding duties. Once their chicklings hatch it’s usually one or two months before the youngsters are ready to fledge, and three to six before they’re completely independent. In the meantime, the parents keep them going with occasional meals. They can live 15 to 20 years.

Facts: Forget snow and ice. Galapagos penguins are more likely to be sun worshippers, being the only ones who live north of the Equator. For the past 10 years, scientists have been helping them make homes in hollowed out lava on islands with fewer predators. When food’s not a worry, hornier couples can produce up to three families a year!

Personality type? The Sun Worshipper? Fried Egg Fan?

How at risk is it? Endangered (EN).

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