Macaroni penguins

Macaroni penguins on rocky terrain
Macaroni penguins on rocky terrain. (Photo: Kieran Quilty)
Group of macaroni penguinsMacaroni penguinMacaroni penguins coming ashore near southern elephant seal

Scientific name: Eudyptes chrysolophus

Physical description and related species

Depending on their breeding stage and gender, macaroni penguins weigh between 4 and 7 kgs, and stand at approximately 70 cm tall. Their longevity is not well known, but estimated at 20 years or more.

The scientific name is derived from the Greek meaning "good diver" (Eudyptes) "with a golden crest" (chrysolophus). Macaroni penguins are closely related to royal penguins.

Distribution and abundance

Macaroni penguins have a circumpolar distribution, generally on sub-Antarctic islands, although one colony is known to exist on the Antarctic Peninsula. 

A huge colony is located near Cape Lockyer on Heard Island, a World Heritage protected area where the macaroni penguins build nest on surprisingly steep slopes.

The global population of breeding pairs was estimated at 6.3 million in 2013, a rapid decline from previous decades. Long-term monitoring programs are in place at several breeding colonies to study population declines.

Conservation status: vulnerable

Breeding

Breeding age is five years for females and six years for males. Macaroni penguins breed annually and their breeding season is variable, although highly synchronized within colonies. 

Unlike most other penguins, macaronis lay two eggs each breeding season. The second egg is bigger than the first and is typically the only one that hatches. Age to fledging is 60–70 days.

Diet and feeding

Macaroni penguins eat lots of Antarctic krill but also a variety of fish. Foraging trips can range from 24 hours to 3 weeks, with macaronis travelling distances of 50 to more than 2000 km depending on breeding stage. Macaroni penguins can dive to depths of more than 220 metres, however, most dives go to 15-50 metres. 

Fur and leopard seals can kill adults, while chicks and eggs are taken by skuas, sheathbills and giant petrels.