Magellanic penguins of Magdalena island

by Roberto Poeti

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

The Magdalena island and Magellanic penguins

A stage of a journey in the far southern Chilean Patagonia is the hike in the small Magdalena Island, a nature reserve. The island has a length of 2 km and a maximum width of 500 metres.  Is in the middle of the Strait of Magellan and is located about 30 km northeast of Punta Arenas, the main centre of the region and base for exploring the area. The island is uninhabited, but the absence of people is matched by the presence of some 65,000 pairs of Magellanic penguins, which makes the island one of the largest animal colonies of Chile and South America. In addition to penguins Isla Magdalena hosts cormorants and several other species of Antarctic origin.  You can get there by boat from the town of Punta Arenas. The tours last for half a day to visit the island, where we walk a pathway one kilometer long .

The Marta Island

A few kilometers from Magdalena island is the small island of Marta appearing as a Board whose walls are overhanging the sea. Is not open to the public, one can only observe at a distance of a few meters. Is the main shelter of the enemy of Magellanic penguins, the sea lion. It is a colony of about a thousand individuals. Living with another crowded colony of cormorants birds.

The Strait of Magellan maps
Faithful couples

The Magellanic Penguin is 45 cm tall on average. The reproductive cycle begins in late August. Breeding males arrive first on land and prepare nests, always in the same place that saw them born and still the same, dug under the ground or among the roots of bushes. They are monogamous and remain faithful to a mate for life. Between the first and second week of September arriving females, and, after a brief courtship, mating takes place. Spawning, no more than two per nest, takes place between late September and early October.

The incubation period

The incubation period lasts about 40 days. In late October they begin to hatch the eggs and to appear the chicks, pichones, long no more than 13 cm, weighing 60 grams. Are covered with a thin gray plumage, entirely dependent on parents, who for three months it will take care of the food, by regurgitating the predigested food in the beak. Male and female, very close at this stage of the cycle, alternate in hatching and in search of food, mainly composed of fish. Never leave the nest unattended, as predators (gulls, Petrels and skuas) are always lurking.

The weaning

In December the little already leave the nest and flocking to the colony, and soon the fluff is replaced by the distinctive black and white plumage which will enable them to face the rigors of ocean waters  . When finished the annual molt of plumage, between late March and early April the entire colony leaves the island to return to the ocean, heading northward, probably as confirmed sightings along the coasts of Brazil and Uruguay, but also of Peru. It’s amazing how they can make thousands of kilometres every year to go to the Magdalena island and leave again after the reproductive cycle

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin in his book “A naturalist’s voyage round the world ” devotes a few paragraphs to the Magellanic penguins saying among other things:

«…. This bird is commonly called Penguin donkey, from force of habit that has, when it is in the ground, throw back your head sending a strange sound and loud, that sounds a lot like donkey bray; but when he’s at sea and is not disturbed his note is very deep and solemn, and often is heard during the night … »

Well if you look at the YouTube clip that I entered this loud braying colony clearly feels.

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian)

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