Chinstrap penguins

Chinstrap penguin
Chinstrap penguin (Photo: Michele Smith)
Chinstrap penguinClose up of chinstrap penguin at Sandy Bay, showing its top half

Scientific name: Pygoscelis antarctica

Physical description and related species

Chinstrap penguins – named for the narrow black band under their heads – weigh 3.5–5.5 kilograms. They are distinguished by the narrow band of black feathers which extends from ear to ear, just below the chin and the cheeks. Males and females look similar but males are larger and heavier than females.

The chinstrap penguin is closely related to two other penguins, the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and the Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae).

Distribution and abundance

Chinstrap penguins breed mainly on the Antarctic Peninsula and on islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. There is a small breeding population on the Balleny Islands, south of New Zealand.

Chinstrap penguins are an abundant penguin species in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic regions. The minimum breeding population was estimated at approximately 4 million pairs in 1999.

Conservation status: least concern

Breeding

Chinstraps spend the winter north of the pack ice zone and return to their colonies in early October through to November. The two eggs are laid in late November. Both males and females take part in the incubation for 33–36 days in total. Initially shifts last 5–10 days but as the hatching date comes closer the shifts get shorter. They generally have two chicks each summer.. This is unlike other penguins species where the stronger chick is fed preferentially. The chicks fledge at about seven to eight weeks.

Breeding success is lower in years when extensive sea-ice persists close to colonies, as this restricts access to the sea for foraging adults.

Diet and feeding

Although chinstrap penguins forage at sea throughout the day and night, diving effort is concentrated near midnight and noon.

Chinstrap penguins feed mainly on krill and fish and are considered near-shore feeders, feeding close to their breeding colonies. They catch prey by pursuit-diving using their flippers to ‘fly’ through the water.

Chinstrap penguins on land often toboggan – laying on their stomachs, propelling themselves by their feet, and using their flippers. They climb using all four limbs and are able to jump large distances to reach footholds.

Chinstrap penguins leave their colonies and move north of the pack ice in March through to early May for the winter.

Leopard seals are the main predator at sea, while predators on land are sheathbills and skuas who take chicks and eggs.