Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic Penguin Photo
A rapidly expanding South Atlantic fishery is among the greatest threats to Argentina's marine species, such as this Magellanic penguin.
Julie Larsen Maher©WCS
Magellanic Penguin Burrow Photo
Magellanic penguin couples dig burrows for their nests, or hide their nests under shrubs if they live on rocky shores. A pair may use the same burrow for years.
Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

This medium-sized penguin makes its home along the coastlines of South America, on both the Atlantic and Pacific shores. These seabirds, also called Patagonian penguins, breed in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands, and spend the winter off the coast of Brazil, Uruguay, and Northern Argentina. Like all penguins, Magellanic penguins have tightly packed feathers and fat to keep them insulated from the cold, but these penguins are also adapted to warm temperatures. To cool off during the heat of the South American summer, they shed feathers around their bill. When they get too hot, they can pant like dogs and stand with their flippers extended to catch a breeze. They nest under the shade of bushes or in cool burrows.

Magellanic penguins eat small fish, crustaceans, krill, and squid, and can swim at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour when pursuing prey. These noisy, charismatic sea birds bray like donkeys, and the males' loud calls to attract females can be heard up and down the coast. During breeding season, which lasts from September through February, Magellanic penguins gather in large colonies that can number as many as 400,000 birds. They are the only penguins to breed on the Patagonian mainland. Both the male and female penguins care for their young, taking turns incubating the eggs and feeding their chicks. Penguins can live up to 30 years in the wild.

Fast Facts

Scientific NameSpheniscus magellanicus
  • The Magellanic penguin was named after explorer Ferdinand Magellan, who spotted the birds in 1520.
  • Magellanic penguins can dive more than 250 feet beneath the water's surface.
  • Magellanic penguins are monogamous. WCS knows of one penguin pair that stayed together for 16 years.


The biggest threats to the Magellanic penguin are commercial fishing, oil pollution, and climate change. In the 1980s, more than 40,000 penguins died in Argentina each year because of oil pollution. Commercial fishing depletes the schools of fish penguins and other seabirds feed on, and penguins can get entangled in fishing nets. In Chile and Peru, some fisherman use penguins as fishing bait. Unregulated tourism and recreation activities can put additional strain on the penguins when they are breeding or resting on the beaches.

WCS Responds

WCS has been working with local partners in coastal Patagonia since the 1960s, helping to conserve Magellanic penguins and other key wildlife by protecting their breeding sites and managing their populations. We have helped to create coastal protected areas and advance scientific research that help support the health of the Patagonian Sea, one of the most productive bio-regions in the Southern Hemisphere. In the 1980s, the Chubut Coast was littered with dead penguins covered in petroleum from the dumping of illegal ballast water that contained petroleum. In 1982, WCS started the Penguin Project at Punta Tombo on the Chubut Coast to study the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins. Working with our partners, the WCS Penguin Project documented the grave situation, and in 1997, the tanker lanes were moved farther from the coast of Chubut to protect the resident wildlife. In 2008, WCS played an instrumental role in two conservation gains for the Magellanic penguin in Argentina: A ban on commercial fishing at Burdwood Bank and the creation of a marine park at Golfo San Jorge. Both are key habitats for Magellanic penguins and their prey.

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WCS Projects

The Bounty of the Patagonian Sea

The Patagonian Sea’s fertile expanse is both a haven for wildlife and a magnet for the fishing industry. WCS has worked to influence conservation policy here since the 1970s. Our Sea and Sky Initiative promotes sustainable management of the region’s fisheries and identifies priority areas for conservation.

From the Newsroom

Penguin Chicks Face Increasing Risks February 3, 2014

The life of a young Magellanic penguin has never been easy. Now, a new study shows that the vulnerable chicks face additional threats to their survival from climate change.

Chile Reels in Salmon FarmingAugust 24, 2011

WCS applauds Chile’s efforts to protect Patagonia’s waters from the salmon industry. But there are many other fish farms in its seas.

The Mystery of the Naked PenguinsApril 7, 2011

Featherless penguin chicks have been popping up on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in the last few years. WCS researchers and their partners are unraveling the clues to this strange disorder.

New Atlas of the Patagonian SeaJune 2, 2010

The ambitious atlas, compiled from data gathered over a decade, shows how albatrosses, penguins, elephant seals, and other marine animals use a critical region of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Wildlife Protection Goes Punk RockMarch 31, 2010

In Argentina, WCS has helped create a new marine park to protect the vulnerable rockhopper penguin—a funny-feathered bird known for its “Mohawk,” red eyes, and bright yellow spiky eyebrows.


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