Gentoo penguin

Pygoscelis papua (J.R. Forster, 1781)

Order: Sphenisciformes

Family: Spheniscidae

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Vagrant

Other names: Johnny penguin

Geographical variation: Two subspecies: northern gentoo penguin P. p. papua breeds on subantarctic islands, and the smaller southern gentoo penguin P. p. ellsworthii on the Antarctic Peninsula and adjacent islands.

Gentoo penguin. Adult. Antipodes Island. Image © Terry Greene by Terry Greene

Gentoo penguin. Adult. Antipodes Island. Image © Terry Greene by Terry Greene

Gentoo penguins are easily identified by their large size, white head markings and orange bill. They live and breed in Antarctic and subantarctic circumpolar waters, breeding on the Antarctic Peninsula and on many island groups. Gentoo penguins breed alongside people on the Falkland Islands, and several colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula and on the adjacent South Shetland Islands are regularly visited by eco-tourism operators. Gentoo penguins are present all year round at many breeding areas, and are rare vagrants to New Zealand waters.

Gentoo penguins are the equal third largest penguin (with yellow-eyed penguin), and are most closely related to the Adelie and chinstrap penguins. They can swim underwater at speeds up to 36 km/h, the fastest recorded for any penguin.

Identification

Gentoo penguins are large penguins. They have a white triangle over each eye, joined by a thin white band over the hind-crown, and sparse white feathers elsewhere on the otherwise dark head. The rest of the head, the neck and the back are dark grey, and the bill and feet are bright orange. Their long tail sweeps from side to side as they walk. The sexes are identical though males are slightly larger.

Voice: the main call at colonies is a loud crowing ah, aha, aha, aha, eh delivered with the bill pointed skywards. The contact call given at sea and on landing is a short caw.

Similar species: no other penguin has a bright orange bill and white feathers over the eye.

Distribution and habitat

An estimated 300,000 pairs of gentoo penguins live in the Antarctic and subantarctic regions. They breed on many islands in the South Sandwich, South Orkney, Falkland, Prince Edward, Crozet, Heard and Macquarie Island groups, plus South Georgia and the Antarctic Peninsula. Colonies can be close to the coast or well inland. Most birds do not move far from their breeding sites, feeding inshore. Their at-sea range is poorly known.

New Zealand records

Gentoo penguins have been recorded from the New Zealand mainland on six occasions, as far north as Banks Peninsula: St Kilda, Otago Peninsula (September 1970), Bluff (November 1970), Catlins (October 1974), Banks Peninsula (February 1976 and December 1993), and Shag Point, North Otago (October 2011). They have also been recorded at Campbell Island (December 1964 - August 1965, December 1985), Antipodes Island (November 1978, November 1995, December 2002), and the Snares Islands (December 1985).

Behaviour and ecology

Gentoo penguin breeding colonies range from 2 to 12,000 pairs. The 2 eggs are laid from June through to November. Incubation is shared and takes about 35 days. Chicks fledge when 62-82 days old in the south of their range, up to 85-117 days in the north. Populations and breeding success can fluctuate considerably from year to year. Gentoo penguins can breed when only 2 years old.

Food

Gentoo penguins feed on fish, squid and krill. They hunt mainly near the surface, but can dive to over 160 metres depth. Gentoo penguins usually forage within 20 km of their breeding colony.

Weblinks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gentoo_Penguin

www.penguins.cl/gentoo-penguins.htm

References

Darby, J.T.; Wright, A.W. 1973. First New Zealand record of the gentoo penguin (Pygoscelis papua). Notornis 20: 28-30.

Harrison, P. 1983. Seabirds; an identification guide. Croom Helm, Kent, UK.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson,H.A. 2005. Field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Penguin Group (NZ) Ltd, Auckland.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 1, ratites to ducks.  Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Reilly, P.N.; Kerle, J.A. 1981. A study of the gentoo penguin. Notornis 28:189-201.

Shirihai, H. 2007. A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife: the birds and marine mammals of the Antarctic continent and the Southern Ocean. 2nd edn. A & C Black, London.

Recommended citation

Batcheler, R. 2013 [updated 2017]. Gentoo penguin. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Gentoo penguin

Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun

Northern gentoo penguin

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
ground-level hollow
Nest description
Mound built of local materials, e.g. grass and stones
Nest height (mean)
0.15 m
Nest height (min)
0.10 m
Nest height (max)
0.20 m
Maximum number of successful broods
1
Clutch size (mean)
2
Clutch size (min)
2
Clutch size (max)
4
Mean egg dimensions (length)
69.00 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
57.50 mm
Egg colour
greenish white
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
3 days
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
35 days
Incubation length (min)
33days
Incubation length (max)
36days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Nestling period (mean)
29 days
Nestling period (min)
20 days
Nestling period (max)
33days
Age at fledging (mean)
87 days
Age at fledging (min)
74days
Age at fledging (max)
100days
Age at independence (mean)
87 days
Age at independence (min)
74 days
Age at independence (max)
100 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
3 years
Age at first breeding (min)
2years
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
Unknown