Description & Characteristics:
Galapagos penguins are the smallest and most northerly of the warm weather penguins. They can be found only on the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. In fact, they are the only penguin species to cross into the Northern Hemisphere with small populations located on the north coast of Isabela Island, just miles north of the Equator. They were brought to the Galapagos Islands by the Humboldt Current, which brings cold waters and nutrients north from Antarctica.
The distinguishing features of the Galapagos penguins include: a narrow white band extending from the eye to under the chin and a black band that runs in an upside-down horseshoe shape around their fronts. Although the pattern of banding on Galapagos penguins is similar to that on Magellanic penguins, the Galapagos penguins are considerably smaller and the main black band around their front is much thinner. The bill is longer and more slender than the bills of its other temperate region cousins. Adult penguins have a bluish-black head, back, and flippers when new. Older worn feathers, dull to a brown color and are somewhat ragged in appearance.
Galapagos penguins are not migratory; they stay in temperate waters year round, eating mostly small tropical fish, such as mullet and sardines, and crustaceans caught on shallow pursuit dives. They are dependent on cold nutrient-rich ocean currents to bring fish to their feeding grounds. In years when warm waters from the El Niño Current are prevalent, Galapagos penguin population may experience heavy declines. Predators include the Galapagos shark and the occasional seal. On shore, penguin eggs and chicks are subject to predation by the Galapagos hawk and introduced rats.
Galapagos penguins nest in burrows or sheltered under crevices in the volcanic rocks of their rugged islands. Adults mate for life. Females lay two eggs, generally between May and January; some penguins may mate as often as every six months but this depends strongly on food availability. The incubation period for the eggs is five or six weeks. Upon hatching, the stronger chick is often fed preferentially so that only it survives. Both male and female share responsibility for feeding and caring for the young, with one parent always on ‘guard duty’ for the first 30 days. By two months, the chicks have fledged (grown their adult feathers) and are ready to feed and fend for themselves.