Galapagos Penguin Spheniscus mendiculus

  • Order: Sphenisciformes
  • Family: Spheniscidae
  • Monotypic
  • Authors: Annica Lila Carlson and Jens Steven Townsdin



The Galapagos Penguin can move either by walking, hopping over cracks or crevices on shore, swimming and porpoising while in the water, or occasionally tobogganing when frightened. When walking they use their flipper-like wings for balance by slightly raising them away from their body. Their wings are also used to propel them forward in the water using strokes similar to that of a bird in flight (Boersma 1977).

The Galapagos Penguin sleeps overnight on land and then goes out to sea early in the morning to fish, rarely coming ashore until sunset when they return for the night. After they have already mated, they frequently return to their nesting site. Once eggs have been laid, one parent is always present to incubate them, while the other goes out to shore to forage. After the chicks have hatched, one parent always remains at the nest until the chicks are approximately three weeks old. Both parents then go out to forage and bring back food for the rapidly growing and ravenous chicks (Boersma 1977).

Head Movements are a very common behavior that occurs between penguins when they are in close proximity to each other. The penguins flatten the feathers on top of their heads and raise their neck feathers while lowering their chin and pointing their bill outwards the other penguin. This behavior seems to simply serve as a greeting or as a way to identify another penguin, but can also escalate to more aggressive behavior that ends in pecking and yelling, resulting in one penguin leaving the area (Boersma 1977).

Sexual Behavior

The Galapagos Penguin is a year-round opportunistic breeder, but breeding is especially active between April and May, and August and September (Merkel et al. 2007). Their ability to breed year round is believed to be an adaptation to the unpredictable environment - especially in regards to availability of food - in which the Galapagos Penguin lives. This allows the penguins to breed rapidly whenever conditions are adequate and food is plentiful. The Galapagos Penguin is believed to be primarily monogamous, at least for several seasons, and their age at first breeding is not definitively known (Boersma 1977, Vargas et al. 2007).

Once a mate has been selected they engage in pair-bond behaviors such as mutual preening where the mated pair clean each others’ feathers, flipper patting, a form of copulation, and bill dueling where the two penguins face each other and begin rocking from side to side causing their bills to gently hit. Bill dueling can also be seen in non-mated pairs, usually as way to establish social order (Boersma 1977).

Social and interspecific behavior

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Few direct observations. The Galapagos Penguin faces predation threats both on land and in the ocean. Potential terrestrial predadors on land include Galapagos Hawk (Buteo galapagoensis), Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) and Barn Owl (Tyto alba), while in the water other potential predadors are sharks, fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis), sea lions (Zalophus wollenbacki), and killer whales (Orcinus orca) (Boersma 1986). The eggs and chicks of the penguin also are at risk from crabs, rats and snakes (Boersma 1976). Feral cats and dogs have become a threat to the penguin populations on the Galápagos since they were introduced by humans (Boersma 1976, Vargas et al. 2007).

Recommended Citation

Carlson, A. L. and J. S. Townsdin (2012). Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.