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.