Interesting facts about macaroni penguins

macaroni penguins

The macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) is the most numerous of all the world’s penguins.

The species is found on the Antarctic Peninsula, on a number of Antarctic and subantarctic islands in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and on the islands near the coasts of Chile and Argentina.

The habitat of macaroni penguins includes in rocky, water-bound areas, on rocks and cliffs above the ocean.

While foraging for food, groups will range north to the islands off Australia, New Zealand, southern Brazil, Tristan da Cunha, and South Africa.

The macaroni penguin was named by English explorers. In the mid 18th century, a young man who wore flashy feathers in his hat was called a “macaroni”. The English explorers thought the yellow crest feathers of this penguin looked just like the flashy young man.


The lifespan of the Adélie penguin is about 8-15 years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.

The macaroni penguin is a large crested penguin that stands about 71 centimeters tall and weighs between 5 to 6 kg. Males and females are monomorphic meaning both sexes appear the same, with the exception of the male being slightly larger.

Like most penguins they are a predominantly black and white bird; the head and upperparts are black and the underparts are white.

They have orange, yellow, and black crests that join on the top of the head. This penguin has a red bill, and the chin, face and under the throat have solid black feathers. The legs and feet are pink.


Like most other penguin species, the macaroni penguin is a social animal in its nesting and its foraging behaviour; its breeding colonies are among the largest and most densely populated.

Macaroni penguins communicate through many complex, ritual behaviors. They may flap their wings, nod their heads, or make loud screeching sounds; much like they do when courting. They may also bow, gesture, or preen with their fins. When these penguins are excited, they raise their crown feathers and bristle their yellow tufts. In the water, the penguins use their webbed feet to steer, and their tails as a rudder while swimming.

Macaroni penguins usually swim at about 15 km/h (9 mph), but can burst up to 24 km/h (15 mph).

macaroni penguin swimming

They are skilled divers that routinely catch prey at depths of 15–70 meters (50–230 feet), but they have been observed diving as deep as 115 meters (about 375 feet). The dives last somewhere around 2 minutes.

Although very near-sighted on land, penguins have exceptional vision in the water. Their eyes, like the many sea animals, are attuned to the colors of the sea. This excellent vision is needed to avoid predation by leopard seals and killer whales, which are their primary predators in the ocean. On land their main predator is the skua (a large bird) which snatches penguin’s chicks from nests.

Macaroni penguins live almost entirely on krill supplemented with up to five percent squid. They also eat some fish, amphipods and crustaceans.


Macaroni penguins are known to be the largest single consumer of marine resources among all of the seabirds, with an estimated take of 9.2 million tonnes of krill a year.

Foraging for food is generally conducted on a daily basis, from dawn to dusk when they have chicks to feed. Overnight trips are sometimes made, especially as the chicks grow older.

Macaroni penguins moult once a year, a process in which they replace all of their old feathers. They spend around two weeks accumulating fat before moulting because they do not feed during the moult, as they cannot enter the water to forage for food without feathers. The process typically takes three to four weeks, which they spend sitting ashore. Once finished, they go back to sea and return to their colonies to mate in the spring.

macaroni penguin mollt

During October macaroni penguins go ashore following a winter at sea. They assemble in huge colonies, first to locate or to choose mates, then to incubate eggs and rear their chicks.

Courtship and mating rituals include so called “ecstatic displays” where a bird, typically an unattached male, pumps his chest several times with his head stretched upwards and with flippers
stretched outwards, projects a harsh loud braying sound. This can result in a mass trumpeting by other males, which is believed to help synchronize the breeding cycle.

Studies have shown three-quarters of these penguins will keep the same mate and often return to the same nest site.

macaroni penguin colony

Most nests are made of small stones and pebbles in muddy or gravelly areas; however, some nests can be made among tussock grasses or even on bare rock.

In November, breeding females typically produce one clutch of two eggs. Egg incubation is performed by each parent in two or three long shifts over the course of the full 33–39-day period. During the next phase of the chick’s life, both parents leave the nest to forage in the sea, and the chick joins a “crèche” (group) with other members of its cohort for protection from predators and the cold. The chick periodically visits the home nest for nourishment. Young leave the nest to forage on their own and become fully independent about 11 weeks after they hatch.

macaroni penguin chick

Immature birds are distinguished by their smaller size, smaller, duller-brown bill, dark grey chin and throat, and absent or underdeveloped head plumes, often just a scattering of yellow feathers. The crest is fully developed in birds aged three to four years, a year or two before breeding age.

Although the population of macaroni penguins is estimated at around 18 million mature individuals, a substantial decline has been recorded in several locations.

This decline of the overall population in the last 30 years has resulted in the classification of the species as globally Vulnerable by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The macaroni penguin is one of six or so species in the genus Eudyptes, collectively known as crested penguins.

Its scientific name Eudyptes chrysolophus is derived from the Ancient Greek words eu “good”, and dyptes “diver” and from the Greek words chryse “golden”, and lophos “crest.”

Macaroni penguins have proved to be popular cartoon characters and have appeared in “The Penguins of Madagascar” and “Happy Feet.”