Penguin (Humboldt)

Spheniscus humboldti

IUCN Red List status: Vulnerable

For more info on classifications, visit



Where they live

western coasts of South America


areas served by the cold Humboldt current as it flows up from Antarctica


height 55-66cm




15-20 years (wild) up to 30 years (zoo)


The drastic decline in population is due to several factors, including the destruction of its nest sites when guano (dried droppings) are removed to make fertiliser; overfishing of coastal stocks, environmental pollution and the effect of the El Nino current.

Did you know...

  • Humboldt Penguins cool off by extending their flippers and fluffing out their body feathers
  • Spines on their tongue are used to hold prey
  • Humboldt penguins can reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour

More about penguins...

DZG holds a group of Humboldt, or Peruvian, penguins which is one of 17 species. They are found along the South American coastline in areas reached by the Humboldt current, and named after German scientist, Alexander Von Humboldt, who explored the region in the late 1700s.

Penguins are superbly adapted to their aquatic life. The body is streamlined, feet are webbed and reduced wings, unsuitable for flying, have become flippers.

Penguins are incredibly agile in water; their plumage traps a layer of air which provides buoyancy and insulation in the cold water.

Their eyes are adapted for underwater vision, and are their primary means of locating prey and avoiding predators.

Small, densely-packed feathers and a layer of blubber beneath the skin insulate the penguin against cold ocean currents.

Oil from a gland in the tail is spread over the plumage during preening to provide waterproofing.

Penguins moult once a year, changing all their feathers at the same time; their new coat appears within 4-5 weeks.

On land, they use their wings and tail to maintain balance for their upright stance. They either waddle on their feet or slide on their bellies across snow, a movement called tobogganing, which conserves energy while moving quickly.

They also jump with both feet together to move more quickly or cross steep or rocky terrain.

All penguins have black backs and white fronts for counter shading. A predator looking up from below has difficulty distinguishing between a white penguin belly and the reflective water surface. The dark plumage on their backs camouflages them from above.

Penguins form monogamous pairs for a breeding season between March and December. It is quite common for Humboldt penguins to rear two successive broods in a single season, when conditions are favourable.

The female will lay two equally sized eggs with a 2-4 day interval, in burrows, rocky crevices or surface scrapes. Both the male and female will take turns to incubate the eggs for 40-42 days.

Chicks hatch about two days apart, and are fed on a daily basis, with adults leaving the colony in early morning, and returning with food later the same day.

The time spent foraging for food increases as the chicks become larger, and require more food, but adults rarely forage more than 35 km from the nest site during chick-rearing.

Chicks remain within the nest until they have fully developed their juvenile plumage. Juveniles have dark heads and no breastband.

Penguins are carnivores feeding close to shore, taking various species of fish, squid and crustaceans. Most foraging is done at depths of less than 60m, often among weed beds, but they have been known to reach depths of up to 150m.

Young are fed by their parents on regurgitated fish until they are strong enough to hunt their own food, this usually takes place at around three months of age.

You can usually see young birds in drab adolescent plumage around the pool as well as the well-worn paths left by adults as they travel to and from their nest boxes.

How you can help...