An iconic species of coastal Patagonia, the Magellanic penguin is the most abundant species of seabird breeding on the coast of Argentina. The head, front of the neck and belly have a distinct pattern of black and white bands. It stands around 45cm (17 in) tall and weighs around 4 Kg (9lbs). Males and females are hard to distinguish although the former tend to be slightly heavier with a more prominent forehead and thicker bill. There are estimated to be 1.2 million pairs of Magellanic penguins and most of them breed on the coast of Patagonia in around 66 colonies. None of the other species equals this large population. The largest colony is at Punta Tombo with around 200,000 breeding pairs. Penguins arrive in their colonies in September and depart in April. The birds remain at sea during the winter months, ranging north on the Atlantic as far as Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The main threats to their survival are at sea where they get entangled in the nets of commercial fisheries and may be affected by oil spills. A large proportion of Magellanic penguins feed on Argentine anchovy, one of the most abundant small fish off the coast of northern Patagonia; hence the development of an anchovy fishery off the coast of Argentina and Uruguay is major concern. Magellanic penguins also occasionally become covered in oil from spills from tankers and oil loading buoys. Oil sticks the bird’s short scale-like feathers together allowing cold water to reach the skin. The bird gets cold and comes ashore where it is unable to feed and eventually starves. Pollution at sea from oil used to kill over 40,000 Magellanic penguins each year up into the mid 1990s; however the oil industry has improved the way it manages contamination at sea in Argentina and less than one or two thousand are oiled each year nowadays. The problem of oil pollution persists however off the coast of southern Brazil and Uruguay. The breeding distribution of Magellanic penguins has extended north along the coast of Patagonia almost 200 Km (120 miles) since the 1960s as a result of changing food availability at sea. Climate change has been proposed as a possible cause of this shift. Like all colonial breeding wildlife one of the concerns is their vulnerability to emerging diseases and man-made threats that can affect a large proportion of the population.
Like all colonial breeding wildlife one of the concerns is their vulnerability to emerging diseases and man-made threats that can affect a large proportion of the population.