Status – Vulnerable (VU)
Height – Up to 71 centimetres
Weight – 5.5 kilograms
The macaroni penguin might look rather comical with its punky hairstyle, but when it comes to feeding, it’s very serious. It doesn’t eat macaroni like as its name suggests, but instead eats krill – and lots of it! It is estimated that this species of penguin alone eats four million tonnes of krill each year.
Where am I found?
Feeding in Antarctic waters, the macaroni penguin breeds on a number of sub-Antarctic islands, as well as at one site on the Antarctic Peninsula. Little is known about this species outside of the breeding season, but it is believed that spends all of its time at sea!
What do I eat?
The macaroni penguin mostly eats krill, although in some areas it will also feed on fish, especially during the breeding season. When feeding, some populations dive in V-shape formations, and can reach depths of 48 metres.
How do I live?
Macaroni penguins are monogamous and form long-lasting pair bonds, reuniting at the same nest site each year and performing a greeting known as the ‘ecstatic display’. Breeding far from the shore, individuals may have to walk hundreds of metres to reach their nest. Although two eggs are laid, the second is larger than the first and usually only one will hatch.
The male and female take it in turns to incubate the eggs in shifts, while the other returns to sea to feed. Once hatched, the male guards and broods the chick while the female forages and regurgitates food for it. Once the chicks develop their first plumage they spend their days in small crèches with other youngsters, and both parents are then able to forage and feed the chick. At between 60 and 70 days old the chicks will have developed waterproof plumage and are ready to fledge.
Life, however, isn’t all plain sailing for these penguins. Skuas, sheathbills and kelp gulls will feed on deserted eggs, while weakened chicks, or those separated from the crèche, are taken by skuas and giant petrels. Whilst at sea, adults are predated upon by leopard seals and Antarctic fur seals.
Why am I threatened?
Like many island-breeding birds, the macaroni penguin is vulnerable to introduced predators such as cats and rats. Over-fishing is also a very serious problem for this penguin, in particular the harvesting of krill, its main food source.
Further pressures include oil spills and increasing tourism, as well as potential climate change, as penguins are extremely sensitive to changes in sea temperature and ocean current, which affect the availability of prey species.