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Wildlife Guide: Macaroni Penguin Facts

4 min read

Contrary to how it may sound, macaroni penguins aren't named for their high pasta diet (in fact, these penguins eat mostly fish, squid and krill) and their name actually reflects the orange feathers atop their heads. Even still, the resemblance to noodles isn't where their name comes from, and "macaroni" actually refers to 18th century slang for someone who was overdressed, referenced popularly in the song "Yankee Doodle."

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni penguins are aquatic animals, meaning they live in or near water for all or most of their lives, and are the largest of the crested penguin classification. Keep reading to learn more macaroni penguin facts including where this interesting species lives, what they eat and their conservation status.

Regional Habitat: Sub-Antarctic (including Falkland Island and South Georgia) and the Antarctic peninsula

Name: Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Length/Height: 28 inches (71cm)

Weight: 12 pounds (5.5kg)

Conservation status: Vulnerable

Diet: Small fish, krill and squid

Appearance: White bellies with black bodies, including their black chins and face. Atop their heads is a distinctive yellow/orange feathered crest that flows from the middle of their forehead. Male and female macaroni penguins have a large red bill, red eyes and pink feet.

Where to see Macaroni penguins: The largest colony of macaroni penguins is on South Georgia Island. The South Georgia population of macaroni penguins is estimated to be 3 million and you can explore this area on expeditions such as South Georgia and Antarctic Peninsula: Penguin Safari, Falklands, South Georgia, and Antarctica: Explorers and Kings, or Epic Antarctica: Crossing the Circle via Falklands and South Georgia.

Touring the Antarctic peninsula is another great opportunity to see macaroni penguins in the wild on expeditions like Antarctic Express: Crossing the Circle, or Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent.

What do macaroni penguins eat?

While their name might suggest a diet of noodles, the macaroni penguin species consumes enough marine life (especially krill during summer breeding season) to be considered the largest consumers of marine life annually.

Macaroni penguins eat more marine life, including millions of tons of krill every year, than any other seabird.

Macaroni Penguin

When it's not mating season, macaroni penguins spend six months hunting fish, squid and crustaceans at sea. Similar to most other penguin species, macaroni penguins are known to eat small stones to act as weight to improve their control and stability in the water, and the stones also help break up the shells of the crustaceans they catch and eat.

While on the hunt, adult macaroni penguins can dive between 49 to 229 feet (15-70m), and the deepest recorded dive from this species is an impressive 330 feet (100m). Typically, these dives last roughly 2 minutes at a time.

What does the macaroni penguin look like?

Macaroni penguins have the black bodies and white bellies common among penguin species. While in the sea, their black backs keep them camouflaged from the top against the dark below, and their white bellies help hide them from below by camouflaging them with the light above. But macaroni penguins also have a distinctive crest of yellow/orange feathers on their forehead.

Macaroni Penguin

Their scientific name Eudyptes chrysolophus comes from Greek words meaning good diver and golden crest. Their impressive diving skills come from their stiff and small wings and design of their flippers.

Macaroni penguins have large, red eyes that along with the feathers on their head make them one of the more easily distinguishable penguin species.

Another defining feature: macaroni penguins don't waddle like other penguin species, and instead they hop.

Where do macaroni penguins live?

Macaroni penguins live in the Sub-Antarctic (including Falkland Island and South Georgia) and the Antarctic peninsula.

Colonies of the macaroni penguin consists of up to 100,000 individuals, but they aren't always friendly with one another. In fact, male macaroni penguins tend to fight one another, and some hop through their colony with their heads down to avoid aggressive behaviors from other males.

The male macaroni penguin tends to get aggressive when they are territorial and adult male penguins will use their flippers to slap each other, they peck at one another, and some birds may lock bills to wrestle and assert dominance.

Having evolved in large colonies, macaroni penguins are adept in communicating with one another through body language. Bowing to one another is a common ritual to show respect or affection, and in breeding populations it's not unusual to see preening, neck extensions, and side to side head movements as males try to attract females.

Female macaroni penguins in breeding colonies typically lay two eggs, but tend to only keep one. This penguin species tends to lay their eggs in shallow nests lined with rocks and both parents have a role in incubating eggs as they take turns staying with the egg and hunting. During this time, parents may fast for up to 40 days and can lose half their body weight during the incubation process.

Once the eggs hatches and the chick emerges, the male macaroni penguin cares for the young penguins by protecting their young from predators and the cold.

Macaroni penguin habitat

Macaroni penguins range from the Sub-Antarctic to the Antarctic peninsula, and can also be found in South Georgia Island, the Falkland Islands, and South Orkney Islands.

Macaroni Penguin

They also live throughout the Antarctic Peninsula including the McDonald Islands, Marion Islands, Crozet Island, and Kerguelen Islands.

Macaroni penguins will travel up to 250 miles (400km) for a new hunting site.

Macaroni penguin height

As mentioned above, as the largest of the crested penguins, the macaroni penguin is an aquatic dweller.

An average adult macaroni penguin is 28in (70cm), and males tend to be slightly larger than females but very similar in appearance.

Are macaroni penguins endangered?

While the macaroni penguin is the most numerous penguin species, populations have experienced a decline of at least 50% over the past 40 years.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni penguin chicks and eggs can be prey to hunting sea birds such as petrels and skuas and adult macaroni penguins are vulnerable to orcas (killer whales) and some seal species including the leopard seal, Antarctic fur seal, and Sub-Antarctic fur seal. They also face the threat of unstable food sources as commercial fishing interfere with their diets and hunting.

There are an estimated 9 million breeding pairs of macaroni penguins worldwide.

Book your next adventure on an expedition today for your chance to see macaroni penguins in their natural habitat!

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