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Chinstrap penguin

Distribution and Migration of Chinstrap Penguin

 Chinstrap penguins on rocky shelf
Chinstrap penguins on rocky shelf

The Chinstrap penguins (Pygoscelis antarcticus) have both the range of true Antarctic species in that a small percentage of pairs breed on the continent and of subantarctic species because they breed north of 60° south latitude. This includes the Scotia Sea, the South Orkneys, and the South Shetland Islands with the largest of their colonies found on the South Sandwich Islands, making their range much larger than that of the Adélie penguins. Their total population is estimated at 7.5 million. In early April, autumn in the southern hemisphere, the adults and the juveniles follow the schools of krill that migrate north of the Southern Ocean into warmer waters that are not ice packed.

Identifying Chinstrap Penguin—Physical Characteristics

The Chinstrap penguin has a distinctively long tail, as do the Adélie and the Gentoo penguins, so they are collectively known as the Brush-tail Penguins. The formal look of a tuxedo is due to their black back and cap, and white underparts. The chinstrap name comes from a thin line of black that extends from the back part of their black cap, under the chin and back up to their cap again. Looking straight on this almost appears as a smile, with their bill more like a nose. Red eyes and pink feet add touches of color. The females are smaller in both flipper length and bill length, with the species ranging from 28.5 – 30.5 inches and anywhere from 8.5 – 11.5 pounds, depending on whether they’re male or female, and the season.

Just after hatching the chicks are covered with grey down that they keep for about three weeks. After that it’s replaced by a new coat of silvery gray on the back with a white underbelly. Juveniles have a grayer face than adults making the “strap” less noticeable. They reach adult plumage in 14 months.

Chinstrap Penguin Habitat

Chinstraps can be found on the assorted beachfronts of the Southern Ocean, including rocky and sandy habitats. They are more likely to inhabit steeper slopes and higher elevations for their colony than their cousins the Adélies.

Chinstrap Penguin Diet

Pursuit divers, Chinstraps take some fish but mostly krill, the fabulously abundant crustacean of the Southern Ocean. They are noted for relatively short dives, close to the surface.

 Jumping chinstrap penguins on Aitcho Island
Jumping chinstrap penguins on Aitcho Island

Chinstrap Penguin Behavior

Males get to the colony about five days before the females to prepare for their arrival. Not only do they stay with the same female for the duration of the breeding season helping with the chicks, but they generally keep the same mate from year-to-year. This behavior saves precious time and very important energy reserves in the brutal Antarctic climate, by bypassing the time-consuming rituals necessary to attract a new mate. When they arrive, the males look for a rocky hollow from the year before continuously adding new rocks and even bones throughout the breeding season. Two eggs are laid by the female about three days apart in late November, early December. If the first one is lost to predation early on, it wouldn’t be too unusual for her to lay a third a couple of days after that, but there is only a narrow window for extending the breeding season in this harsh environ.

Incubation lasts about 37 days with the female taking responsibility for the first six days while the male bulks up out at sea. After that they switch on and off until the eggs hatch. At first the chicks are fed twice a day but as they get older and can hold down larger feedings, the interval lengthens. Their growth depends on the number of survivors in the nest, with one growing faster than two would.

The colony is normally empty by late March, although if the conditions are seasonable, they can hang in there until early April. Following the breeding season, the adults take 13 days to molt.

Chinstrap Penguin Social Behavior

A very social species, colonies can sometimes reach inland for a quarter mile. Chinstraps are frequently found in the company of Adélies, in the more southern colonies, and Gentoo penguins, as well as Imperial cormorants. Although they construct the simplest of rocky-hollow nests, they defend them against the other species and each other the most vigorously of the brush-tail penguins.

Pair of chinstrap penguins
Pair of chinstrap penguins
Nesting chinstrap penguins
Nesting chinstrap penguins
Chinstraps at Aitcho Island
Chinstraps at Aitcho Island
Chinstrap penguins in snow
Chinstrap penguins in snow
Chinstrap penguin portrait
Chinstrap penguin portrait

Chinstrap Penguin Video

 
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