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What is a Macaroni Penguin?

The Macaroni Penguin is a vibrant species distinguished by its bold orange plumes. Inhabiting the sub-Antarctic regions, these birds are social, adept swimmers, and named for an 18th-century fashion statement. Their unique appearance and behaviors captivate wildlife enthusiasts. Discover how these penguins thrive in their icy realms and what challenges they face in a changing world. What will their future hold?
Debra Durkee
Debra Durkee

The macaroni penguin is a large penguin with a distinctive crest of yellow-orange feathers that grows back from the center of its forehead. A member of the genus Eudyptes, the macaroni is second in size only to the royal penguin. Like many penguins, the macaroni can typically be found nesting on bare, rocky areas on islands in the Antarctic.

The head, back, and wings of the macaroni penguin are black, and the chest and stomach are white. The beak is brownish-orange, legs and feet are pink, and the eyes are a distinctive red. Adults typically reach about 28 inches (71 cm) in height, and weigh around 12 pounds (5.5 kg). The plume of feathers, one of the most noticeable features of the macaroni penguin, grows from a patch on the forehead and is typically draped back over the eyes. These crests develop as birds mature.

Veterinarian with a puppy
Veterinarian with a puppy

Macaroni penguins are among the most common of all the penguin species. Most of the time, the majority of birds can be found in the Antarctic Circle and the islands within it. Breeding colonies are on more northern islands, while the penguins take to more southern seas after the breeding season ends. Stray birds have been found as far north as South Africa.

Thriving in large colonies, the birds often huddle together for warmth. Within the large colonies are pairs of monogamous birds who return to the same breeding grounds season after season. These birds will lay two eggs each breeding season, although typically only the second one will hatch. Macaroni penguins are doting parents who take turns first incubating the eggs, then protecting and feeding the young birds.

While keeping a watchful eye on their young, adult macaroni penguins can go for weeks without foraging for themselves. Once the young are old enough to leave the protective eye of their parents, the adult birds head out to sea for about three weeks of continuous feeding. When they return to land, they go through a nearly month-long period of molting. Without their waterproof feathers, they are unable to hunt in the sea; after molting they return to the water until the next breeding season begins.

Krill make up a large part of the diet of the macaroni penguin, and it is augmented by small fish and crustaceans. In turn, macaroni penguins are prey for large seabirds and different species of seals. When adult birds are hunting for their mates and their young, they regurgitate captured prey for adults and young alike.

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      Veterinarian with a puppy