Gentoo penguins

Gentoo penguin with chicks
Gentoo penguin with chicks (Photo: Greg Stone)
Gentoo parents change over on the nestGentoo chickGentoo penguins in snow on Macquarie IslandGentoo feeding timeOne of the station gentoo penguins seeing off a skua

Scientific name: Pygoscelis papua

Physical description and related species

The gentoo penguin is a medium sized penguin, standing 75–90cm tall and the females are smaller than males.

A bright red-orange bill and conspicuous white eye patches make both adult and juveniles easily distinguishable from any other species of penguin.

The Gentoo penguin is closely related to two other penguins, the Chinstrap (Pygoscelis antarctica) and the Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae).

Distribution and abundance

Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua) breed on subantarctic islands and on the Antarctic Peninsula in small to large colonies. Larger populations of gentoo penguins are found at South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and the Iles Kerguelen.

Gentoo penguins are the least abundant of the penguins found on the subantarctic islands, with a total breeding population of approximately 314 000 pairs.

Conservation status: near threatened

Humans have depleted some gentoo penguin populations in the past. Populations appear to have remained stable for the last 50 years due to the lack of any major threats.

Breeding

The male and female of a pair are both at the nest well before the breeding season begins, and both incubate the egg and brood the chick in shifts.

Gentoo penguins forage at sea close to the colony, and thus their chicks are fed frequently. This may explain why gentoo penguins rear two chicks each year more often than other penguin species. Breeding success is affected by food availability.

Adults can be found throughout the year on breeding islands indicating that they are relatively sedentary.

Diet and feeding

Gentoo penguins feed on rock cod, amphipods and cephalopods (mainly squid). Females tend to eat more krill than the males, while the males tend to eat more fish than the females. It is thought that gentoo penguins are gregarious at sea.

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

Gentoo penguin eggs are taken by skuas. Young birds are preyed upon by sheathbills, caracaras (falcons), kelp gulls, giant-petrels and feral cats, while older birds are taken by leopard seals. Nests are often flattened by indifferent elephant seals as they move about the island.

This page was last modified on 12 August 2010.