Spheniscus humboldtiHumboldt penguin

Last updated:

Geographic Range

Spheniscus humboldti inhabit the coastal regions of Peru and Chile. These regions are temperate in climate (Welch 1994). These birds are well known in the Humboldt current from Peru to south of Chile on the coast and offshore islands (Villouta, et al., 1997).


On land Spheniscus humboldti lives in burrows composed of soil and rock or in crevices in rocks (Welch 1994). Spheniscus humboldti breed in large colonies. They spend most of their time at sea and rarely come back to land (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

  • Range depth
    1000 (high) m
    3280.84 (high) ft

Physical Description

Spheniscus humboldti are black and white in color with pink around the eyes and on the beak. The feet are webbed and serve as a rudder. There are also claws at the end of the toes for climbing. The feathers are in two layers. The top layer is flat and overlaps the second layer to stop the wind and water from penetrating to the body. The second down layer is for insulation. The wings evolved into flippers for flying through the water. The bones are solid and act as a ballast while diving (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). The body is in the shape of a streamlined torpedo covered by the short waterproof feathers (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). They are able to swim swiftly through the water by the aid of hard flippers or wings (The Aquatic Creatures 2002). Spheniscus humboldti is also called the Peruvian penguin. It is 38 to 45 centimeters (18 to 15 inches) in height and weighs about 4 kg (9 pounds) (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001).

  • Average mass
    4000 g
    140.97 oz
  • Range length
    38 (low) cm
    14.96 (low) in


One male breeds with one female during the mating season (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

The most abundant breeding happens around the availability of food and of breeding sites. Egg laying occurs throughout the year (Welch 1994). Once a mate is acquired the pair initiates copulation after displays of behavior (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). Spheniscus humboldti begin breeding at about three years of age. The male arrives at the nesting area a few days before the female to prepare the breeding site. The female arrives and lays two white eggs that she incubates for 39 days (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). The major causes of egg loss are from flooding of nests during ocean storms, accidental breakage, and clutch desertion and predation by gulls (International Conservation Work Group 2001). Chicks poke a small hole through the egg then chip the shell off. This can take up to three days. (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs throughout the year.
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    39 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Chicks require attentive parents. They depend on the parents for survival between hatching and growing waterproof feathers. Once a chick has done this it can enter the water and become independent (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).


The average life span is 15 to 20 years for Spheniscus humboldti and there is a high mortality rate among the young (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).


The feathers must be groomed to prevent water infiltration as maintaining a high degree of air insulation is important. Before their early feeding in the morning, Spheniscus humboldti preen. This requires gathering oil from the preening gland located in the rump where the tail originates. The oil is applied to the feathers and edges of the flippers. They will also preen each other. A lot of huddling is done to minimize heat loss. Spheniscus humboldti, however, can get hot through physical activities. Stream-lining feathers reduce the volume of air between the skin and the edge of the feathers and reduces the layer of air that serves as insulation. Molting takes place sometime in July to September and it only last about ten days (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Spheniscus humbldti are inshore feeders; they forage for small fish and crustaceans. They circle around the prey and attack from the side swallowing it head first (Welch 1994). The mouth and tongue have backward pointed spines to hold fish (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). El Nino storms destroy large regions of nesting areas by causing rough surf that washes away nests. The affects on the temperature of the sea is an increase which can reduce the food supply (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

  • Animal Foods
  • fish
  • aquatic crustaceans


Humboldt penguins are are very agile when swimming. This is their only defense against predators (The Smithsonian Zoo 2001). When in the water they can be eaten by leopard seals, fur seals, sea lions, sharks, and killer whales. On land, foxes, snakes, and introduced predators like cats and dogs can prey on the eggs and chicks (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000). Spheniscus humboldti get entangled in fishing nets as well (Chicago Zoological Society 1999).

Ecosystem Roles

Spheniscus humboldti live on the coast and gather soil, rocks, and sometimes grasses, to build their nests. These nests are created using their wings and feet to push and mold a nest (Welch 1994).

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • creates habitat

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Humans collect the eggs of Spheniscus humboldti (Chicago Zoological Society 1999). In the nineteenth century penguin skins were used to make caps, slippers, and purses. The feathers were used for clothing decorations. Extraction of oil from the penguins fat layers was economically important; the oil was used for lighting, tanning leather, and fuel. Spheniscus humboldti guano had a value as nitrogen rich fertilizer (Busch Entertainment Corp. 2000).

  • Positive Impacts
  • produces fertilizer

Conservation Status

In 1981 the U.S. department of Interior declared Spheniscus humboldti endangered. Today Spheniscus humboldti are only used illegally (Welch 1994).


Jillian Smith (author), Western Maryland College, Randall L. Morrison (editor), Western Maryland College.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


an animal that mainly eats fish


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year


Buda, J., N. Parikh, J. Kim. 2001. "The Humboldt Penguin: *Spheniscus humboldti*" (On-line). Accessed March 8, 2002 at http://www.bergen.org/Smithsonian/HumboldtPenguin/.

Busch Entertainment Corp., 2000. "Penguins" (On-line). Accessed April 21, 2002. at http://www.seaworld.org/infobooks/Penguins/home.html.

Chicago Zoological Society, 1999. "Fact Sheet: Humboldt Penguin" (On-line). Accessed March 1, 2002 at http://www.letus.org/bmatters/animals/penguin.html.

International Conservation Work Group, 2001. "Humboldt Penguin" (On-line). Accessed March 21, 2002 at http://www.penguins.ac/humboldt-penguins.htm.

The Aquatic Creatures, 2002. "Peruvian Penguin:Swimming" (On-line). Accessed March 18, 2002 at http://www3.ocn.ne.jp/~kmitoh/zaturoku/penwing/e_penwing.html.

Villouta, G., R. Hargreaves, V. Riveros. 1997. Haematological and clinical biochemistry findings in captive Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti). Avian Pathology, 26: 851-858.

Welch, K. 1994. "The Penguin Page: A Journey to the Bottom of the World" (On-line). Accessed March 15, 2002 at http://users.capu.net/~kwelch/pp/species/humboldt.html.