11 Types of Penguins in South America! (ID Guide)

What are the different kinds of penguins in South America?

Types of penguins in South America

It’s easy to see why people are fascinated with penguins. Besides their adorable looks, these birds are unlike any other in the world!

They’re flightless birds that love to swim, they stand upright instead of hunched over, and almost all of them live in the southern hemisphere.

Keep reading to learn about EVERY type of penguin that lives on the planet, including photos and range maps!

THE 11 PENGUIN species in South America:

#1. Magellanic Penguin

  • Spheniscus magellanicus

Types of penguins in South America

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 61–76 cm (24–30 in) tall and weigh 2.7 and 6.5 kg (6.0-14.3 lb).
  • In males, the coloring is black on the back, with a white abdomen and two black bands between the head and the breast. Females and young have a similar pattern in more muted grays.
  • These penguins have rigid, flipper-like wings used to swim underwater.

This species is one of the most recognizable penguins in South America!

With their bold black and white markings, distinctive bills, and reddish skin around the eyes, you won’t have any trouble spotting this penguin along the coasts of South America!

Magellanic Penguins are found in coastal South America from Brazil to Chile and on the Falkland Islands.

These amazing birds are a social species known to travel in large groups while hunting for food. Magellanic Penguins routinely dive to depths of 20-50 m (66-164 ft), where they find their prey. They mostly feed on squid, krill, cuttlefish, and other crustaceans.

When the breeding season comes, Magellanic Penguins group in large nesting colonies along southern coasts. They lay eggs in warm places where the temperature is over 20 °c (68 °f). As is typical with most penguins, the male and the female parents take turns leaving the nest to feed.

Magellanic Penguins face threats like oil spills, predators, and climate change. But luckily, at the moment, these penguins are plentiful and are considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN.

  • Estimated Global Population: 1.5 million breeding pairs

#2. Gentoo Penguin

  • Pygoscelis papua

Types of penguins in South America

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 51 to 90 cm (20-35 in) tall and weigh 4.5-8.5 kg (10-19 lbs).
  • This species has a wide, white stripe that looks like a bonnet across the top of its head. The beak is bright reddish-orange.
  • Their feet are webbed, and they have elongated tails.

This species is one of the largest penguins in South America.

Gentoo Penguins have adapted to extremely cold and harsh climates, and one of the ways they stay warm is with extra body weight. They are also the fastest underwater swimmer of all known penguin species, with a top speed of 36 kph (22 mph).

Gentoo Penguins live in coastal Argentina, the Antarctic Peninsula, and Southern Ocean islands from the Falkland Islands to Macquarie Island.

Even though they are one the largest penguins in the world, Gentoo Penguins are susceptible to predators. Sea lions, killer whales, and leopard seals are particularly dangerous. They’re much safer on land! Despite these dangers, the Gentoo Penguin population is stable, and they are a species of Least Concern.

  • Estimated Global Population: 775,000 individual penguins

Gentoo Penguins have various sounds they use to communicate in their colonies, but the most famous one is a loud trumpeting emitted as the bird throws its head back. LISTEN BELOW!

YouTube video

#3. Galápagos Penguin

  • Spheniscus mendiculus

Types of penguins in South America

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 49–50 cm (19–20 in) tall and weigh 2.5–4.5 kg (5.5–9.9 lb).
  • They have a black upper body and head with a white stripe from behind the eyes to under the chin. The belly is white with a black ring outlined in white.
  • Their beaks are black on the top and pink on the bottom.

Galápagos Penguins are the ONLY penguins that live NORTH of the equator!

Galápagos Penguins are found on the Galapágos Islands of Ecuador.

As their name suggests, this species is native to the Galápagos Islands. They hunt in cold ocean waters by day, relying on the current to bring food near their breeding sites. They return to land to roost at night.

YouTube video


The Galápagos Penguins are currently an endangered species. However, there is hope for this amazing species! They’re currently experiencing a baby boom, and with conservation efforts underway, we may see their population rebound. Read more about the reasons for the baby boom, which include less tourism and increased food supply, here.

  • Estimated Global Population: 2,000 individual penguins

#4. King Penguin

  • Aptenodytes patagonicus

Types of penguins in South America

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 70-100 cm (28-39 in) tall and weigh 9.3-18 kg (21-40 lb).
  • Its coloring is dark on the back, wings, and legs, with bright yellow-orange plumage at the top of its chest and around each eye. The belly is white.
  • The wings are large and flipper-like, and the beak is long and straight.

The King Penguin is the second largest penguin in the world.

Many people confuse them with the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, because they appear somewhat similar.

King Penguins live throughout the Southern Ocean, with sightings in South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and various islands.

These athletic penguins are impressive in the water! They can swim at 6.5–10 kph (4–6 mph) and dive to depths of 100-300 m (350-1000 ft). In addition, they can stay underwater for up to five minutes.

Even though they’re agile swimmers, King Penguins must be vigilant because they’re a favorite food for many sea mammals. In particular, sea lions will chase these penguins right onto the beach!

YouTube video

Like many types of penguins, King Penguins are susceptible to loss of habitat because of climate change. Even though they are currently a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, their population is expected to decline by up to 70% in the next eighty years.

  • Estimated Global Population: Between 2 and 3 million breeding pairs

#5. Humboldt Penguin

  • Spheniscus humboldti

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 56-70 cm (22-28 in) tall and weigh 2.9-6 kg (6.4-13.2 lb).
  • They have a black head and a white marking that goes from behind the eye and chin to join at the throat.
  • The upper parts are black or dark grey, while the abdomens are white, with a black breast-band.

Humboldt Penguins in South America are incredibly outgoing!

This species is popular in zoos because of its boisterous, excitable nature. They’re often seen crowding around zookeepers, trying to be first in line for a treat!

YouTube video

In the wild, Humboldt Penguins like to build their nests on rocky coasts, where they burrow holes into crevices. Interestingly, they often live in harmony with Magellanic penguins.

Humboldt Penguins are found along the west coast of South America in Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.

These penguins have excellent eyesight, which is their main hunting tool. They can track fast-moving schools of ocean fish like sardines and anchovies, then dive up to 54 m (177 ft) to catch them.

Unfortunately, Humboldt Penguins face more threats to their existence than many other types of penguins. First, they have to contend with predators and invasive species. Additionally, these birds are particularly sensitive to human disturbance, climate change, competition from fisheries, and industrial development. All these factors combined have caused the Humboldt Penguin’s population status to be listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List.

  • Estimated Global Population: 12,000 breeding pairs

#6. Chinstrap Penguin

  • Pygoscelis antarcticus

Also known as the Ringed Penguin, Bearded Penguin, and Stone Cracker Penguin.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 68–76 cm (27-30 in) tall and weigh 3.2–5.3 kg (7.1–11.7 lb).
  • They are white on the abdomen, chin, throat, and face, while the back is black.
  • Their short bills are black, and their feet are pink.

These are the most aggressive type of penguins in South America!

Chinstrap Penguins are known for their ill tempers, but it’s easy to see why when you consider their life story.

For one thing, their main predator, the leopard seal, constantly hunts them, so they need to be tough and cautious!

Chinstrap Penguins live in the Southern Ocean, with sightings in coastal South America and the Antarctic Peninsula.

Additionally, Chinstrap Penguins spend most of their time swimming in freezing water. They will swim up to 80 km (50 mi) offshore daily in search of small fish, krill, shrimp, and squid to eat. Talk about a rough life!

Although they have to contend with more challenges than other types of penguins, the Chinstrap Penguins’ population remains stable at around eight million individuals. They are a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

#7. Southern Rockhopper Penguin

  • Eudyptes chrysocome

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 45–58 cm (18–23 in) tall and weigh 2–3.4 kg (4.4–7.5 lb).
  • Look for their straight, bright yellow eyebrows finishing in yellow plumes over a red eye.
  • The upper part of its body is solid gray, and the belly is white.

Southern Rockhoppers are the showiest penguins in South America.

Just look at that yellow eyebrow and crown of feathers on its head. This species is ready for a party! 🙂

And its looks aren’t the only thing that sets the Southern Rockhopper apart. Many penguins avoid obstacles by sliding on their bellies or climbing using their flippers. However, this species jumps across cracks and boulders instead.

There are two subspecies of Southern Rockhopper Penguin. The western subspecies lives on the southern coast of South America, and the eastern subspecies lives on the southern coast of Australia.

These adaptable penguins also have complex hunting behaviors. They can travel in groups up to 57 km (35 mi) away from their colonies. They hunt for between 12 and 15 hours at a time, leaving the colony around dawn and returning at dusk.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Rockhopper Penguins are highly recognizable because of their looks. In addition, their breeding grounds are also popular tourist destinations!

Unfortunately, Rockhopper Penguins are also considered vulnerable to extinction because of their recent population decline. The threats against these penguins include competition from commercial fisheries and oil spills. However, several zoo breeding programs are leading efforts to help the species thrive.

  • Estimated Global Population: 1 million breeding pairs

#8. Macaroni Penguin

  • Eudyptes chrysolophus

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are about 70 cm (28 in) long and weigh around 5.5 kg (12 lb).
  • Their coloring is black above and on the face with a sharp line that distinguishes the white underparts and belly.
  • They have prominent yellow or orange crests above the eyes, and their legs and feet are pink.

The Macaroni Penguin is one of the six species of crested penguins in the world. Their colonies are some of the largest, with around 100,000 individuals in some of them. Despite these numbers, there has been a decline in their population, so their current conservation status is classified as vulnerable.

Macaroni Penguins inhabit the Southern Ocean and have breeding colonies in South America, the Antarctic Peninsula, and various islands.

The diet of the Macaroni Penguin mainly consists of crustaceans like krill, small fish, and cephalopods. They eat more marine life per year than any other seabird! Unfortunately, they have numerous predators in the water, including the leopard seal, orcas, and giant petrels.

  • Estimated Global Population: 18 million individuals

#9. Royal Penguin

  • Eudyptes schlegeli

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 65–76 cm (26–30 in) tall and weigh 3–8 kg (6.6–17.6 lb).
  • They have black and dark gray backs, heads, and wings.
  • Their faces and chins are white, with yellow eyebrows and large orange beaks.

The Royal Penguin is a social species, so they often cohabitate with other colonies, especially while hunting. This behavior helps to eliminate competition for resources and offers protection from predators. They eat krill, small fish, and squid.

Royal Penguins are found almost exclusively on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean.

These penguins have an unusual breeding habit that experts can’t explain. The female lays two eggs but almost always abandons the first egg a day before the second egg arrives, reducing the chances of the first one hatching. The chosen egg is kept warm by both parents.

After hatching, the male takes care of the chicks for two to three weeks while the female hunts. If the female doesn’t return with food, the chick usually doesn’t survive.

Royal Penguins are considered a vulnerable species due to habitat loss, climate change, and predation. In the past, this species was hunted for its oil, which caused a drop in population.

  • Estimated Global Population: 850,000 breeding pairs

#10. Erect-crested Penguin

  • Eudyptes sclateri

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 50-70 cm (20-28 in) tall and weigh 2.5-6 kg (5.5-13.2 lbs).
  • Their coloring is bluish-black on top with white underparts.
  • A large, bright yellow stripe on the head extends over the eye to form a brush-like crest.

Erect-crested Penguins are the least-studied penguins in South America. However, we do know some information about their hunting and breeding habits.

For example, this species commonly scrapes krill off the underside of the ice. Although they don’t have teeth, these penguins have a sharp blade-like bill to help with the task. They also eat squid and small fish.

Erect-crested Penguins live on the eastern coast of New Zealand and the surrounding islands.

Erect-crested Penguins have very specific breeding habits that sometimes hurt their survival chances. They nest in rocky terrain, often on precarious ledges. Unfortunately, the eggs can roll out of the nest easily. Increased fighting and low breeding success also hurt this species’ population.

As you might expect, Erect-crested Penguins are endangered. Their population has drastically declined over the last 30 years, and their breeding range is limited only to two locations.

  • Estimated Global Population: 30,000 breeding pairs

#11. Moseley’s Rockhopper Penguin

  • Eudyptes moseleyi

Also known as the Northern Rockhopper Penguin or Moseley’s penguin.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults grow to 55 cm (22 in) and weigh about 2.4 kg (5.3 lb).
  • Their coloring is black above with white underparts and a messy, bushy yellow crest.

Moseley’s Rockhopper Penguins in South America are commonly found on shorelines. They prefer to make burrows and nests in high grasses known as tussocks.

Moseley’s Rockhopper Penguins inhabit the Southern Ocean and breed on various islands.

They eat mostly krill, crustaceans, squid, octopus, and fish.

This penguin is classified as an endangered species. In the last 30 years, its population has decreased as it suffers from the effects of climate change, overhunting by humans, and oil pollution in the sea.

  • Estimated Global Population: 200,000 breeding pairs

Do you want to know more about penguins in South America?

Which type of penguin in South America is your favorite?

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