The Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) belongs to a genus of penguins known as the 'banded penguins'. There are four species within this genus, Spheniscus, of which all have a very similar pattern of black and white. This contrasting colouration is known as countershading (or Thayer's Law). When viewed from above the dark back blends in to the dark water, but when viewed from below the light underside blends with the light sky. It is the penguins way of camouflaging itself from predators.
HABITAT AND DISTRIBUTION
The Humboldt penguin inhabits the cool waters of the west coast of South America, swimming along the Humboldt Current off the coasts of Peru and Chile. The current is caused by the cold waters flowing up from Antarctica. Rocky coasts and islands make ideal habitat for the Humboldt to makes its burrows.
The Humboldt penguin is similar in appearance to the African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus), the Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus) and the Galápagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus). The overall appearance is a blackish back and nape, with a large white, spotted belly. The face has a white stripe from the top of the eyes to the throat. The skin at the base of the bill is bare and pink all the way to the eye. The bill itself is short but broad. The white belly also has a black ring that reaches the pink-black coloured feet. The Magellanic penguin has an extra black stripe across the throat. The Galápagos penguin is much 'dirtier' in appearance with an almost entirely black face and very broken and incomplete belly stripe. The African Penguin has only a small bare pink patch above the eye, and its face and throat have bigger white areas. Humboldt penguins grow to 55 - 70cm long, with the females being a little smaller than the males.
DIET, BEHAVIOUR AND REPRODUCTION
Living within the nutrient-rich Humboldt Current, this species takes full advantage of the hoards of fish that come with it. Their prey items include anchovies, sardines, krill and squid. Most foraging is done at a depth of no more than 60m, but this species has been observed diving as deep as 150m.
Mating for life (monogamous), the Humboldt penguin digs a burrow in which it lays two eggs. After an incubation period of around 40 days the thick fluffy chicks hatch out, usually a few days apart, and both parents take responsibility in feeding them. Lifespans in the wild can be 15 - 20 years, reaching up to 30 years in captivity.
OTHER NOTABLE FACTS
The Humboldt penguin is named after the cold current of water it swims in (the Humboldt Current). Other names for this species include the Chilean Penguin and the Peruvian Penguin.
It has been noted on a few occasions that two males may bond, and together raise an egg that may have been rejected by a mother. Examples include two males at Bremerhaven Zoo in Germany (2009 ), and Jumbs and Kermit at the Wingham Wildlife Park in the UK (2014).
The Humboldt penguin is listed by the IUCN as Vulnerable. Years of hunting (for oil, food, skins, etc) has taken its toll, and with new threats such as over-fishing, this species is struggling to recover. Egg collecting is also a factor as is the harvesting of the guano, a bird manure it uses to help construct its burrows. Naturally occurring threats include the El Niño Southern Oscillation which can cause severe storms that have been known to wash away nesting sites, and can affect the Humboldt Current's temperature which affects the prey numbers that travel with it (mainly by upsetting the amount of phytoplankton numbers).