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A photo of a Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguin

Pygoscelis papua

The Gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua) is a striking bird, easily identified by its distinctive white head stripe and bright orange-red bill. With webbed feet of a pale whitish-pink hue and a tail longer than any other penguin species, the Gentoo is a remarkable sight. The adult Gentoo can reach lengths of 70 to 90 cm, making it the third-largest penguin species, and it is known for its impressive underwater speed, reaching up to 36 km/h.

Identification Tips

Look for the wide white stripe that extends across the top of the head, resembling a bonnet, and the vibrant orange-red bill. The Gentoo's tail is quite prominent and, when on land, it sticks out and sweeps side to side as it walks. Chicks are distinguishable by their grey backs and white fronts.

Habitat

Gentoo penguins are found on ice-free surfaces for breeding, preferring shallow coastal areas. They may nest directly on the shoreline or further inland, often between tufts of grass.

Distribution

Gentoo penguins breed on many subantarctic islands, with significant populations on the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. They are also found on the Kerguelen Islands, Macquarie Island, Heard Islands, Crozet Islands, South Shetland Islands, and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Behaviour

Gentoos are monogamous breeders, with infidelity typically resulting in banishment from the colony. They are known for their noisy disputes and physical attacks over the ownership of nesting stones, which are highly prized by both males and females.

Song & Calls

The most frequently heard call of the Gentoo penguin is a loud trumpeting, emitted with the head thrown back.

Breeding

Gentoo penguins lay two eggs, which are incubated by both parents in shifts. The eggs hatch after 34 to 36 days, and the chicks form crèches at around 30 days old. They moult into subadult plumage and venture to sea between 80 to 100 days.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of Gentoo penguins primarily consists of crustaceans like krill and shrimp, with fish and cephalopods comprising a smaller portion. They are opportunistic feeders and around the Falklands, they are known to consume fish, squat lobsters, and squid in roughly equal proportions.

Conservation status

As of 2019, the IUCN Red List classifies the Gentoo penguin as Least Concern with a stable population trend. However, there are concerns about moderate overall declines due to rapid decreases in some key areas, such as Bird Island, South Georgia. Threats include pollution, hunting, fishing, and human recreational activities.

Similar Species

The Gentoo penguin is most closely related to the Adélie penguin (P. adeliae) and the chinstrap penguin (P. antarcticus), but can be distinguished by its unique head stripe and tail length.

Predators

In the water, Gentoos face predation from leopard seals, sea lions, and killer whales. On land, while adult Gentoos have no natural predators, skuas and giant petrels are known to prey on chicks and eggs. Skuas have also been observed attacking adult Gentoos over territorial disputes.

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