August 10, 2009
Of all the species of penguins, more than half can be found only outside Antarctica. Here are my top five favorites:
5. Humboldt penguin: These medium-sized penguins—about nine pounds—live on the rocky coasts of Peru and Chile. They get their name from the Humboldt Current, which runs along the Pacific Coast of South America and was named for 18th-century explorer Alexander von Humboldt. The pink spots on their faces are areas without feathers, which help the birds to stay cool. Slightly disgusting fact: They nest in layers of other seabirds’ guano.
4. King penguin: Second only to the Antarctic emperor penguin in size, the king penguin grows up to 35 pounds. They live on low-latitude islands such as Tierra del Fuego and the Falklands. King penguins are serial monogamists: they stick with their mate faithfully for a year, but only about 29 percent of the relationships last through the following breeding season.
3. Magellanic penguin: Another medium-sized penguin, the Magellanic, can be found in Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, and some even migrate to Brazil. They are one of the four “jackass” penguins, so called for their bray, which can carry into the night. Read Smithsonian’s Penguin Dispatch about the Magellanic penguins of Punta Tombo from earlier this summer. Nearly 200,000 breeding pairs come to breed at this spot off the coast of Argentina.
2. Galapagos penguin: The only penguin found north of the equator (at least, outside of a zoo), the small Galapagos penguin is the rarest of all penguin species. There are only around 1,000-1,500 individuals, all living in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. Temperature fluctuations due to El Niño have been a main cause of the species decline, but predation by cats introduced to the islands, fishing and oil pollution have also harmed the birds.
1. Fairy penguin: Also called the little or little blue penguin, the fairy penguin can be found on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. At about two pounds, it is the smallest of all penguin species and, in my opinion, the cutest. Though there are many places to see fairy penguins in the wild, the best might be Summerland Beach on Phillip Island in Australia. Each night, after a day of fishing, the penguins cross the beach to return to their burrows in the sand dunes, with tourists watching the “penguin parade” from boardwalks and viewing stations.
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