Macaroni penguins are one of six species of crested penguins. Crested means that they have long feathers on top of their heads called aigrettes. Fancy feathers need a fancy name. When macaroni penguins were first discovered in the 18th century, they were so named by English explorers because their aigrettes looked like the fancy feathers that men wore in their hats called macaroni. Remember the song “Yankee Doodle?” It was considered a very fashionable style for the time for a man to have a feather in his cap.
Macaroni penguins live in Antarctica and sub-Antarctic areas. They stick to rocky coastlines and build their nests out of small rocks and mud, if they build a nest at all. Some penguins lay their egg right on the rocks. They lay their eggs in the summer and so during that season, you’ll find the penguins up on the rocky shore. During the winter, though, they spend most of their time in the water. They are hunting small fish, crustaceans, and krill. It is thought that macaroni penguins are the ocean’s largest consumer of krill, eating several tons every year. While diving for food, with each dive potentially lasting two minutes, it has been recorded that these penguins can descend over 300 feet below the surface.
Macaroni penguins live in colonies sometimes reaching up to 100,000 members. Fights can occasionally break out between males, particularly in the mating season, and for this reason the penguins tend to keep their head low when moving through the group, to avoid any potential fights. Most of the penguins are monogamous. The incubation period of the egg is roughly 35 days, and during this time, the male and female share the sitting-on-the-egg duties pretty evenly. For the first 12 days, both will take turns keeping the egg warm. For the following 12 days, only one will and the other will go to eat. The final 12 days, the roles are reversed. While sitting on the egg, the penguin doesn’t eat, and they will lose up to 40% of their weight during this time.
After they hatch, the penguin chicks form nurseries to stay warm because their adult feathers haven’t started to grow in yet. Instead, they have fuzzy down feathers. Interesting to note that the penguin chicks do not have a crest. In a few months, though, they grow their new set of feathers including the distinctive long feathers on their head and are ready to become more independent.
Macaroni penguins are the most numerous kind of penguin in the world, with a population of 18 million individuals. However, their populations are still declining, placing them at a Vulnerable status. Macaroni penguins are the largest of the crested penguins. Instead of waddling when they walk like other penguins do, they hop instead. Even though the rocks where they live might be slippery and hazardous to others, in the warmer months when they live ashore a thin layer of dirt or vegetation cover the rocks, which makes it safe for them.
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