Antarctic Wildlife: Chinstrap Penguins

By admin / 02 February 2018

Antarctic Wildlife: Chinstrap Penguins

The Chinstrap Penguin is a beautiful, delicate little bird with very distinctive markings from which its rather odd name derives. They look very much like they’re wearing little black helmets with chin straps!

The Chinstrap Penguin is a beautiful, delicate little bird with very distinctive markings from which its rather odd name derives. With a white underside and dark-grey back like most penguins, Chinstrap Penguins are easily identifiable from their white faces, demarcated dark plumage on the top of the head, and a fine dark line running under the chin. They look very much like they’re wearing little black helmets with chin straps!

Habitat and Population 

Standing at just 60cm-68cm tall and weighing between 3kg-5kg, Chinstrap Penguins breed in large colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula and the rocky terrains of the surrounding sub-Antarctic islands, most notably South Georgia, South Shetland, South Orkney, and South Sandwich. Smaller numbers can also be found on Bouvet Island, Peter I Island, Heard Island, and Balleny Island.

Chinstrap Penguins have adapted well to their cold, harsh environment thanks to their densely packed, waterproof plumage, a thick layer of blubber, and the blood vessels in their extremities that restrict in order to redirect heat to their essential organs. 

With a very large and healthy population, there are an estimated 13 million of these stunning birds located in Antarctica. It’s highly likely that you will see many of them on an Antarctic Expedition Cruise during the spring and summer, particularly on the rocky outcrops and hillside slopes of the South Sandwich Islands. 


    The beautiful Antarctica Chinstrap Penguin 


Whilst on land, Chinstrap Penguins love to toboggan, propelling themselves by their feet and soaring across the ice on their bellies—this is one of the best things to witness. They also have many forms of communication that are amusing to watch, including gesturing, waving their heads and flippers, bowing, and preening

Like all penguins, Chinstraps are graceful and skillful in the water, with the ability to swim at 30km per hour. Each day, they can travel as far as 80 km offshore to source food. Although fairly shallow divers compared to other penguins, they can reach depths of 70 meters and stay underwater for up to one minute whilst foraging for their favourite food on the Antarctic menu—tasty krill!


Chinstrap Penguins with their chicks


Breeding season takes place from November/December to March, which is springtime and summertime in Antarctica. In autumn, Chinstrap Penguins leave their breeding colonies and migrate to the open waters north of the pack-ice. They will congregate there over the winter and head back to their large breeding colonies on land the following spring. 

Chinstrap Penguins are very social and it’s common for breeding pairs to form close bonds. Most individuals will return to the same nest site each year with the same breeding partner. They build circular stone nests on ice-free slopes and the female will lay two eggs in late November, with both individuals sharing incubation duties.

It’s not uncommon for disputes to arise over nesting space. Everyone wants to secure the highest slopes because they are the first to become ice-free. During these ‘showdowns’, Chinstrap Penguins are known to stare, point, and sometimes charge at one another. Like all penguins, they are partial to stealing stones and other materials from one another’s nests. This happens continuously, with stones going back and forth when nests are unguarded! 

Chicks will hatch in early January, normally fledging two months later. Unlike other types of penguin, Chinstraps treat both chicks equally—they do not give preferential treatment to the stronger of the two. However, breeding success is highly dependent on sea-ice—if it fails to break away from near their colonies, foraging adults have restricted access to the sea. 


Chinstrap Penguin colony in the Antarctic

Seeing Chinstrap Penguins on an Antarctic Expedition Cruise 

Many of our Antarctic Expedition Cruises provide the opportunity to view Chinstrap Penguins in their natural habitat, as well as many other penguin species, seabirds, and marine mammals such as whales, seals, and sea lions. Click here for a complete list of incredible Expedition Cruises to the Antarctic Peninsula, Weddell Sea, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands, and beyond.  

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