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Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguin

These penguin "dandies" dress to impress with their feathered crest

What you need to know about the Macaroni Penguin

Our Expert Says… "A number of male macaronis attempt to breed each year in the South Shetland Islands. This is right at the extreme of the species' range, and although some are successful, many make a nest each year amongst the Chinstrap Penguins, where they will call for a mate all season but never find one. It's quite sad!"

Macaroni penguins are one of the 6 species of crested penguin, identified by their yellow head feathers. They were first described by naturalists who visited the Falkland Islands in the 1830s. They are not named after anyone called Macaroni, as many people think, but were given the name by 19th-century British sailors because someone who wore flashy clothes or had excessively decorated outfits in those times was called a “macaroni” - just like in the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy”! The sailors obviously felt these penguins were showing off a bit with their gaudy plumage.

The macaroni penguin is quite a large bird, standing about 70cm (2ft 4”) tall and weighing up to 6.3kg (14 lbs). As well as the very obvious yellow head crest, macaronis have very sharply defined markings - their black feathers contrast cleanly against the white, rather than bleed into each other. They have a large, wide, orange-brown bill and red eyes.

Macaroni penguins have to molt and replace all their feathers every year. They pile on extra weight before they do this as they are unable to hunt during the molt as they have no protection from the water during this time. They spend 3 or 4 weeks on dry land waiting for the process to complete.

Like most penguins, the adult macaroni’s predators are leopard seals, Antarctic fur seals, and orcas. Chicks and eggs are preyed upon by seabirds like skuas, petrels, and snowy sheathbills.

The macaroni penguin is thought to be the most numerous of the penguin species, with an estimated 8-12 million breeding pairs on islands in the Southern Ocean such as South Georgia and other sub-antarctic islands. Despite those impressive-sounding numbers, this is a species in decline.

Like all penguins, they are social creatures and nest in large colonies in tussock grass. During the breeding season, macaronis become quite vocal, and they also display a range of behaviors, including “bill-jousting” and “flipper striking”!

A few also breed in the Falkland Islands, the South Shetland Islands, and occasionally in the Antarctic peninsula, but not enough to form their own colonies, often nesting in Chinstrap Penguin colonies.

Macaroni Penguin: Pictures & Videos

Macaroni Penguin

Spots where the Macaroni Penguin can be observed

Elephant Island

Elephant Island is one of the outermost of the South Shetland Islands. The roots of its name are argued to be one of two reasons. Either the fact that Elephant seals were seen hauled out here in large numbers by the first person to discover and map the island, Captain George Powell in 1821, or that the island’s shape is uncannily like that of a baby elephant’s head with trunk extended!

The island remained unexplored for many years thanks in part to its lack of resources (just small numbers of seals and penguins and no native plants) and partly because of its steep volcanic rocks, presenting few landing points.

However, in 1916 Elephant Island became immortalized as the scene of the beyond-all-odds survival story that was Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition.

After their ship Endurance was lost to the treacherous ice in the Weddell Sea, the 28 crew were forced to make a perilous escape attempt. After months in open boats and stuck on drifting ice sheets, the team arrived at Elephant Island. Here they set up a base to stay at Point Wild while Shackleton and five members of his crew set sail in an open lifeboat for South Georgia - a journey of over 800 miles - to seek a rescue ship.

This stunning tale of endurance, determination, and the human spirit is brought home to visitors to Elephant Island by the Endurance Memorial at Point Wild. You can also see breathtaking views of the Endurance Glacier - named after Shackleton’s lost ship - as well as the stunning rocky terrain and its Chinstrap Penguins and seals.

Saunders Island

Saunders Island (known in Spanish as Isla Trinidad) is in the northwest of the Falkland Islands group and is the 4th largest individual island with 50 square miles of land.

Saunders Island is geographically stunning, as well as rich with remarkable wildlife. The island is made up of three peninsulas that are joined by narrow necks of land. The three uplands towner over the necks, with the tallest, Mount Richards, being 1,500ft above the waves below. The views from the headlands are astonishing.

Saunders Island has been designated an Important Bird Area (or IBA) thanks to the large numbers of breeding species that make their homes here. The beaches and cliffs are home to four species of penguin with thousands of Gentoo, Rockhopper, Magellanic, King penguins - you can’t avoid hearing their raucous cries from all over the island! There also tend to be a few Macaroni Penguins and if you are lucky to see then you will have had a five penguin species day!

Other significant species to be found on Saunders include Falkland Steamer Duck, King Shag, Black-browed Albatross, the Striated Caracara (can be very inquisitive), Turkey Vulture, and a range of shorebirds, like the Magellanic Oystercatcher, to terrestrial birds from land birds from Dark-faced Ground Tyrants to the white-bridled finch. There are rats on the island so you do not tend to see the Blackish Cincloides or Tussacbird.

In the waters off the sandy shoreline, you can see the delightful Commerson’s dolphins - their black and white markings making them seem like miniature orcas - and even South American Sea Lions. Visiting Elephant Point will bring you face-to-face with the small colony of elephant seals that live here and gave their name to the beach. At the right time of year, if you are lucky, you might find southern right whales in the sheltered bays here feeding and resting before moving on.

The Falkland Islands

The Falkland Islands (known in Argentina as Islas Malvinas) is an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. Most people may be familiar with them because of the conflict that was fought here by armed forces from Argentina and the UK in 1982, but there is so much more to the Falklands.

Inhabited since 1764, these remote islands have been colonized and claimed by many countries - France and Spain have claimed them (and Argentina since its formation and former Spanish colony) although it’s the British descendants who make up the majority of the islands’ 4,000 population. As a British Overseas Territory, the Falklands are self-governing, but the UK is responsible for defense and foreign affairs. Argentina still disputes the sovereignty of the islands they call the Malvinas.

Made up of two large islands (East and West Falkland) and over 700 smaller islands and islets, the Falklands are as beautiful as they are rugged and remote. Despite its history as a base for South Atlantic whalers and sealers, and more recently extensive sheep farming, the Falkland Islands have retained great biodiversity, and modern conservation has ensured many previously struggling wild species are now returning.

The Falklands is home to important populations of albatross, having some of the largest breeding sites in the world. They are also home to the rare striated caracara, 63 species of nesting land bird, and 5 penguin species. Seals, whales, dolphins, and other marine life are also abundant. Finally, the rugged landscape itself has a stark beauty, and the islanders, although hardy, offer everyone the warmest of welcomes, usually accompanied by a hearty Falklands Tea.

Fishing and farming account for the vast majority of the Falklands Islands income, although tourism is increasingly important. Many of the farms on the islands are now managed with wildlife conservation in mind, and the Falklands is a wildlife management success story.

Although most ships visit Stanley (usually for a day), the main focus on 'expedition' cruises are the outer islands with all the wildlife, and some of the special breeding birds like Black-browed Albatross and Southern Rockhopper Penguins and some Patagonia specialists like the Striated Caracara. Also bear in mind, with cruises that also go to South Georgia and the peninsula, only 2 or 3 days are normally spent in the Falklands, although some cruises spend longer here.

Our trips to spot the Macaroni Penguin

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