The Gentoo penguin, belonging to family Spheniscidae, is a penguin species closely related to the Chinstrap penguin and the Adélie penguin. This species was first described by Johann Reinhold Forster in the year 1781.
Species: P. Papua
The scientific name for Gentoo penguin is Pygoscelis Papua.
This species has two recognized subspecies –
This is the third largest penguin species in the world. The height of an adult Gentoo penguin is 74 to 76 centimetres, and their weight tends to be between 4.5 to 8.5 kilograms. Males are significantly bigger than the females. Their wingspan is around 22 to 26 centimetres. The back side of their body is black, while the front side (belly) is white. They can be easily identified by its bill color which is partially black and partially bright-orange, and a white stripe across its head touching the edges of both eyes. They have a long tail (which is longer than other penguins). They possess a pale pinkish webbed foot. Juveniles carry greyish down.
They can be commonly seen near inshore waters searching for food. During breeding season, they prefer to inhabit flat grounds. At times they make nests among vegetation and rocky areas.
This penguin species has a circumpolar geographical distribution. They breed in the Antarctic peninsula as well as the sub-Antarctic islands. Nominate subspecies Pygoscelis Papua mainly breeds on Staten Islands, Macquarie, Heard, Kerguelen, South Georgia, and the Falkland Islands; while Pygoscelis Papua Ellsworth breeds on South Sandwich Island, South Orkney, South Shetland Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. Their non-breeding range is not fully known as the scattered population can often be seen as north as Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.
This penguin is highly territorial. For the most part of the year, they prefer to live in the same site where they normally breed. Nesting location is usually moved because of ice formation and they take the nest to an ice-free location. Once the juveniles have fledged, adults begin moulting. During their pre-moult time that starts in January, they go to sea frequently for prolonged foraging trips during which they gain a lot of weight that is necessary for moulting as it is an energy intensive event. Moulting period lasts for 25 days.
Gentoo penguins are social birds. During breeding season, a single colony can have thousands of breeding pairs. They arrive at the breeding ground in June to November, depending on the site. Following that, each pair will start making the nest with moss, grass or stones.
They are known to shred up plants to use as nest material. Following copulation, females lay two white colored eggs. Both male and female take part in incubation process that goes on for 30 to 40 days depending on temperature and location. Juveniles fledge after 85 to 118 days, but parents continue to feed them for another month or so. They reach their sexual maturity at the age of two.
They are opportunistic feeders. Their diet composition varies with location and season. They feed on squid, small fishes, and crustaceans.
Their average lifespan is 13 years.
They communicate through a squawking screech. These sounds are usually loud and high pitched among males. Vocalizations are common during the breeding season, or when a male or a female return from a long foraging trip from the sea.
The eggs of Gentoo penguins are vulnerable to skuas. Juveniles are preyed upon by kelp gulls, falcons, feral cats and giant-petrels. Adults are often taken by leopard seals. During breeding season, nest raid is common by southern elephant seals.
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has kept Pygoscelis Papua in the ‘Least Concern’ category.
The species name ‘papua’ is actually a misnomer in its original description given by Johann Reinhold Forster. After he circumnavigated the world with Captain Cook, he wrongly assumed that this sea-bird occurred in Papua New Guinea, where there were no penguins.
Although not threatened worldwide, yet there are some places where the colonies have declined, such as on the sub-Antarctic islands. Researchers have found that their Bird Island (South Georgia) population has gone down around 67% since 1980.
This species breed in several protected regions, such as Heard Island and Macquarie Island, both of which are Natural World Heritage Sites, as well as Special Nature Reserve and Prince Edward Islands.
In order to save this species to become threatened with extinction, BirdLife International has recommended several steps required to save this species including long-term monitoring of breeding colonies.
The Falklands is the only breeding site where this bird coexists with human habitation. This penguin is also very lenient to grazing animals.
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