Pygoscelis antarcticuschinstrap penguin

Geographic Range

Chinstrap penguins make their home around the Antarctic Peninsula and the coastal islands of the continent. Mainly, you find them on the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Island and South Sandwich (Welch 1997).


Chinstrap Penguins often live on large icebergs on the open ocean. One colony on the South Sandwich Islands is said to contain over 10 million birds. They are a stable population and were last estimated to include about 7.5 million breeding pairs. (Barham and Barham 1996, Welch 1997, Woehler and Chippingdale 2000).

  • Terrestrial Biomes
  • icecap

Physical Description

Chinstrap penguins are white on the front and throat but have a black back. A thin band of black plumage runs from one side of the head to the other, right below each reddish eye and unites under the bill. Chicks have grey backs and white fronts. The male and female Chinstraps are monomorphic, as are all other penguins, thus make it hard to tell them apart without non-morphological cues. They stand about 72 cm tall and weigh about 3.5 to 5 kg. Adult weight varies during the year. When the penguin is in the molting season they gain the most weight and when they are in the brooding period they lose the most. Chinstrap penguins are able to withstand extreme cold due to the insulation provided by their short, densely packed feathers. This in turn forms a waterproof coat. Underneath these feathers, a thick layer of fat or blubber also serves as storage for energy. These adaptations help protect them against the extreme cold conditions of the Antarctic by minimizing heat loss in icy cold waters (Hale 1999, Muller-Schwarze 1984, Welch 1997).

  • Range mass
    3000 to 5000 g
    105.73 to 176.21 oz


The nests they build on icebergs are roughly circular consisting of stones and are typically 40 cm in diameter and up to 15 cm high. Chinstrap penguins usually lay two eggs, generally two to four weeks later than other pygoscelid species in the same area. The Chinstraps complete their breeding cycle by February or March and go back to the pack ice during winter. The eggs are hatched by both parents in shifts of 5 to 10 days. After 33 to 35 days the chicks hatch and they stay in the nests for 20 to 30 days before joining their crèches (groups of young penguins huddling together for warmth and protection). At 50 to 60 days of age, after molting, the chicks finally go to sea (Barham and Barham 1996, Hale 1999).


Penguins in general communicate through complex ritual behaviors that include head and flipper waving, calling, bowing, gesturing and preening. Stares, pointing and even charging occur when the Chinstraps have territorial disputes. During courtship and mating rituals the male Chinstrap penguin communicates through pumping his chest several times and stretching his head upward. He then emits a harsh loud screeching sound and is soon joined in by other penguins, thus create a mass trumpeting. This is believed to help synchronize the breeding cycle. Chinstrap penguins live and breed in large colonies and dive off their iceberg homes to catch fish and krill. The Chinstrap is considered the boldest penguin and thus is the most likely to fight other penguins. Lastly, they are recognized and sometimes called "Stone cracker Penguins" because of their high-pitched call (Hale 1999, Muller-Schwarze 1984, "Science: Penguins" 1995).

Their principal predator is the leopard seal, while the main predators of eggs and chicks are the Sheathbill and Brown skua. They are not considered to be migratory (Barham and Barham 1996, Welch 1997, Woehler and Chippingdale 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Chinstrap's diet is quite simple and consists of small shoaling animals: krill, small fish and other roaming marine crustacea. Chinstrap penguins' prey is 95% krill and about 5% of the other species mentioned (Barham and Barham 1996; Welch 1997).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Today, penguins are economically important in South America and South Africa for their guano, which is used for fertilizer. Penguins in general are a big tourist attraction no matter where their home is. In the past, commercial egg collecting caused severe damage to rookeries and penguins were also slaughtered for their blubber. In some places, such as islands in the southern Indian Ocean, fishermen still use penguin meat for bait ("Penguins" 2000).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Penguins eat seafood that consists of 94% fish, 5% squid, and 1% crustacea. Fisheries argue that in one breeding season, all species of penguin are able to eat 7,000 tons of food, and 2,900 of that has economic value to humans (Sparks and Soper 1987).

Conservation Status

12 to 13 million Chinstrap penguins are thought to be located on the barren islands of the sub-Antarctic Region and the Antarctic Peninsula. Thus, this species is in no immediate danger. They are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting.

Two recent studies show that penguins have been infected with diseases that were most likely spread by people discarding poultry. Australian scientists at Mawson Station inAntartica found antibodies for infectious bursal disease virus (IBDV) in Emperor penguin chicks (Aptenodytes forsteri) and adults of Pygoscelis adeliae, Adelie penguins. Swedish scientists found Salmonella bacteria in penguins on Bird Island.

Under the Antarctic Treaty System, the "Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora prohibit killing, wounding, capturing, or molesting any native mammal or bird in Antarctica without a permit." These "Agreed Measures" strengthen the conservation by the Protocol on Environmental Protection for the Antarctic Treaty. Annex II. This protocol prohibits the import of live poultry, and requires specific treatment for dressed poultry and its disposal. To evaluate the statues of various animals the the Conservation Assessment and Management Plan (CAMP) is used, which determines the conservation priorities for a country. During a conference in 1992 where New Zealand penguins were discussed resulted in the choices of further management, research and captive breeding programs for nine species and subspecies. ("Penguins", 2000)

Other Comments

Other names for the Chinstrap penguins are "Ringed penguin" and "Bearded penguin". No subspecies have been proposed and they are the smallest of the pygoscelids (Barham and Barham 1996, Welch 1997).


Mike Coulson (author), University of California, Irvine, Rudi Berkelhamer (editor), University of California, Irvine.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

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Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

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uses sound to communicate

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.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


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.


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).


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.


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


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


2000. "Penguins" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 23, 2000 at

1995. "Science: Penguins" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 24, 2000 at

Barham, P., B. Barham. 1996. "Pete & Barb's Penguin Pages" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 24, 2000 at

Hale, P. 1999. "Penguins Around the World: Chinstrap Penguin" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 23, 2000 at

Muller-Schwarze, D. 1984. The Behavior of Penguins: Adapted to Ice and Tropics. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

Sparks, J., T. Soper. 1987. Penguins. Oxford: Facts on File Publications.

Welch, K. 1997. "The Penguin Page" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 23, 2000 at

Woehler, E., M. Clippingdale. 2000. "Chinstrap Penguin: Ten Facts" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 23, 2000 at