Penguins of the Magellan Region
Bingham M. and Mejias
E. Published in Scientia Marina
1999 Vol: 63, Supl. 1: 485-493
The Magellanic Region,
including the Falkland Islands, is one of the world's most important
areas for seabirds, and especially penguins. World-wide there are
17 species of penguin; 7 of these regularly breed around the coastal
waters of South America, and 5 within the Magellanic region. These
are the King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Gentoo Penguin
(Pygoscelis papua), Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome
chrysocome), Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
and Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus).
During the last
4 years, a review of the breeding populations of penguins within
the Magellanic Region was conducted. This work included population
censuses of all the surface breeding species throughout the Falkland
Islands and southern South America. The results of this work are
presented, along with other cited information, to provide a summary
of the current knowledge of penguin populations within the Magellanic
El area de Magallanes, incluso Islas Falklands, es una área muy
importante para las aves del mar del mundo. Hay 17 especies de los
pingüinos; 7 crias en Sud America, y 5 crias en el area de Magallanes.
Son los Pingüino Rey (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Pingüino
Papua (Pygoscelis papua), Pingüino de Penacho Amarillo (Eudyptes
chrysocome chrysocome), Pingüino Macaroni (Eudyptes chrysolophus)
y Pingüino de Magallanes (Spheniscus magellanicus).
Durante los 4 años
adras, investigamos las poblaciónes de los pingüinos en el area
de Magallanes. Esta investigacion incluyó cuentas de todas las especies
que crian encima de la tierra por todas partes de Islas Falklands
y Sud America del sur. Presentamos nuestros resultados con información
de otra literatura, para hacer un resumen de las poblaciónes de
los pingüinos en el area de Magallanes.
Of the 5 species
of penguin that regularly breed within the Magellanic Region, the
Magellanic Penguin is the most numerous and widespread (Bingham
1998). It only breeds around the coasts of Chile and Argentina,
and at the Falkland Islands.
The King Penguin
has a limited presence in the region, with a breeding population
of around 400 pairs in the Falkland Islands (Bingham 1996). King
Penguins have not bred in South America since the colony on Islas
de los Estados was wiped out by sealers during the last century
(Clark 1986). The Falkland Islands hold around 20% of the world
population of Gentoo Penguin, with a total population of 65,000
breeding pairs at 81 sites (Bingham 1996).
The Falkland Islands
and South America are home to two species of the Genus Eudyptes;
the Southern Rockhopper and the Macaroni (Bingham in 1998b). The
Southern Rockhopper is a subspecies that is restricted to the Falkland
Islands and South America, with the Falkland Islands holding a breeding
population of about 300,000 pairs at 36 sites (Bingham 1996). The
Falkland Islands population of Macaroni Penguins is very small,
with no individual colonies and only individual pairs found breeding
amongst Rockhoppers colonies. The total Falklands population stands
at no more than about 50 pairs (Bingham in 1998b).
a population census of all penguin species (except the Magellanic
Penguin) was conducted around the Falkland Islands (Bingham 1996).
Every breeding colony was visited, and population totals for each
species obtained. Comparing this data with previous studies revealed
that the Southern Rockhopper population had crashed to a fraction
of its former size (Bennett 1933, Bingham 1994c Bingham 1995a, Bingham
1996). With no obvious reason for this dramatic decline, apart from
speculation about commercial fishing, it became a priority to census
the remainder of the world population located in South America,
to determine how wide-spread the decline had been.
It had been shown
during the 1995/96 census of the Falkland Islands, that it requires
little extra effort to census all penguin species during the course
of such a census. The only exception to this was the Magellanic
Penguin, which because of its widespread, low-density distribution
in burrows, made it impossible to census with methods employed for
surface nesting species (Bingham 1996). For this reason the Magellanic
Penguin had been excluded from the Falkland Islands census. On that
basis it was decided that a census would be conducted of all South
American penguins during the 1996/97 breeding season, except for
those of the Genus Spheniscus.
During the 1995/96
Falkland Islands census it had been possible to conduct ground counts
of incubating pairs at each of the breeding colonies, because most
colonies were relatively accessible (Bingham 1996). By contrast,
many of the South American colonies are remote and inaccessible,
and any attempt to conduct ground counts of each and every colony
would have been doomed to failure. It was therefore decided from
the outset that the census would be conducted by light aircraft,
thereby negating the need to get ashore at difficult and remote
The location of
all the Falkland Islands breeding sites had been known prior to
the commencement of the 1995/96 census (Bingham 1996), but this
was certainly not the case for South America. Although data did
exist for a number of known breeding sites around South America
(Croxall in press, Frere et al. 1993, Venegas 1984, 1991, Woehler
1993), it was likely that other sites existed which had not been
recorded. This was another reason for favouring an aerial census,
since it provided the opportunity to cover large areas of suitable
coastline in search of previously unrecorded colonies. This certainly
reduced the margin of error that would otherwise have arisen from
new sites being overlooked, however the margin of error for aerial
counts was likely to be higher than for ground counts.
In order to quantify
the margin of error likely to be expected from aerial counts, a
number of aerial censuses were made of Rockhopper colonies in the
Falkland Islands for which the number of breeding pairs was also
determined by ground counts. These aerial counts differed by a maximum
of 14% from ground counts made of the same colony, giving a total
margin of error of +/- 20% for aerial census data (Bingham 1996).
The 1996/97 aerial
census was conducted throughout the known Eudyptes breeding ranges
of Chile and Tierra del Fuego (Woehler 1993). The Atlantic coast
of mainland Argentina was excluded from the census, since this coastline
has been well studied, and does not hold any breeding sites for
species covered by the census, other than a very small Rockhopper
colony on Isla Pingüino, near Puerto Deseado (Frere et al. 1993,
Gandini et al. in press). This colony is regularly monitored as
part of an ongoing research programme, and population data from
their research was used in favour of duplicating results (Frere
et al. 1993).
As expected, no King Penguins were recorded anywhere in South America.
King Penguins do not make nests, but instead hold eggs and chicks
on their feet, making nest counts impossible. Nevertheless the Falkland
Islands population census recorded 339 chicks, which indicates a
total breeding population of approximately 400 breeding pairs (Bingham
Somewhat surprisingly, a very small Gentoo breeding colony was discovered
on Islas de los Estados, containing almost 100 breeding pairs. This
was the only breeding colony of Gentoo Penguin recorded in South
America. The Falkland Islands population recorded during 1995/96
was 65,000 breeding pairs at 81 breeding sites.
The 1996/97 census showed that South America holds a breeding population
of about 175,000 pairs of Southern Rockhoppers, at a total of 15
breeding sites. Apart from the very small colony near Puerto Deseado
(Frere et al. 1993), these breeding sites are restricted to the
islands off Tierra del Fuego and Chile. Combined with the Falkland
Islands population of 300,000 pairs at 36 sites (Bingham 1996),
this gives a world population of 475,000 breeding pairs at 51 sites
for the subspecies Eudyptes c. chrysocome. (South Georgia has been
known to hold a few breeding pairs, but no more than 10 pairs have
The 1996/97 census showed that South America holds a breeding population
of about 12,000 pairs of Macaroni, at a total of 9 sites. These
sites are all restricted to the islands off Tierra del Fuego and
Chile. Only the islands of Diego Ramirez, Ildefonso and Noir hold
more than a thousand breeding pairs.
The Falkland Islands
population of around 400 breeding pairs of King Penguins has rapidly
expanded from a population of less than 100 pairs recorded during
1980/81 (Bingham 1995a). With a world population of around 1,500,000
pairs (Croxall, In press), the Falkland Islands population is of
regional rather than global importance.
The Falkland Islands
population of around 65,000 breeding pairs, recorded during the
1995/96 census (Bingham 1996), represents about 20% of the world
population of 320,000 pairs (Croxall, In press). The 1995/96 Falkland
Islands census indicated a population decline of around 45% since
a similar census conducted during 1932/33 (Bennett 1933).
Annual counts of
selected breeding sites around the Falkland Islands suggested that
much of this decline had occurred during the late 1980s and early
1990s, with low breeding success also being observed during that
period (Bingham 1994a, Bingham 1994d, Bingham 1995a). Continued
monitoring of these sites since then, indicates that the Falkland
Islands population has now risen to around 81,000 breeding pairs,
with high breeding success rates having been recorded since 1993/94.
Gentoo populations are known to fluctuate greatly, and it is plausible
that the decline observed previously was merely part of a natural
The world population
of Southern Rockhopper Penguins now stands at around 475,000 breeding
pairs, with 63% of the population in the Falkland Islands and 37%
in South America. Comparison with previous census data (Bennett
1933) indicates that the Falkland Islands population has crashed
to just 10% of its former size, with much of this decline having
occurred during the 1980s and early 1990s (Bingham 1994c, Bingham
1995a, Bingham 1996). Evidence of this dramatic decline can also
be seen from the breeding sites themselves. The Falkland Islands
breeding sites feature old colonies which have destroyed the vegetation
by years of occupancy, leaving only lichen covered rocks and stones
around the nest-site. The huge breeding colonies that once produced
these areas of barren ground, have now been reduced to small clusters
of birds huddled in the centre of their stony territories.
The South American
population shows no such evidence of decline, with breeding sites
featuring a healthy mixture of new, middle-aged and old colonies,
indicating a natural cycle of fluctuation and regeneration. Comparison
with previous census data (Venegas 1984, Venegas 1991, Woehler 1993)
also indicates that the South American population was stable throughout
the 1980s and 1990s, during which the Falkland Islands population
crashed (Bingham 1996). The reason for such differing fortunes is
unknown, although it is interesting to note that the waters around
Tierra del Fuego and Chile are not heavily fished, whilst those
around the Falkland Islands are. In the Falkland Islands, even internationally
recognised sites, such as Beauchêne Island which is being considered
for World Heritage status, have fleets of fishing boats operating
just 3 miles from breeding Rockhoppers.
The Macaroni populations
of South America (12,000 pairs) and the Falkland Islands (~50 pairs)
must be looked at in the light of a world population of around 9
million breeding pairs (Croxall, In press). These populations are
therefore of regional rather than international importance. There
were no obvious signs of decline amongst the South American population,
and no evidence to suggest that the population has changed greatly
over recent years. The Macaroni is the most numerous of all the
Although the Magellanic
Penguins were not included in the 1995/96 and 1996/97 censuses,
that is not to say that no work has been done on this species. The
current population along the coast of mainland Argentina is estimated
to be 650,000 breeding pairs (Gandini et al. In press). Observations
of distribution around Tierra del Fuego and Chile during the 1996/97
census suggest that these regions hold a population at least as
large as that of mainland Argentina, giving a South American population
of at least 1,300,000 pairs. The Falkland Islands population is
well in excess of 100,000 pairs (Bingham 1998), giving a minimum
world population of around one and a half million breeding pairs.
of selected colonies (Bingham 1994b, Bingham 1995a, Bingham 1995b)
shows that the Magellanic Penguin population of the Falkland Islands
has declined to about half its 1980s level. These declines coincided
with observations of low breeding success up until 1993/94.
In addition to its
Penguin Monitoring Programme in the Falkland Islands, the Environmental
Research Unit now conducts similar studies at a number of Chilean
breeding sites along the Straits of Magellan. These studies suggest
that the Magellanic Penguin decline observed in the Falkland Islands
has not been evident in the Magellanic region of Chile, despite
its close proximity and similar breeding habitat to the Falkland
Islands (Bingham 1998).
of the differing fortunes of the two regions can be seen from the
breeding sites themselves. Magellanic Penguin colonies around the
Falkland Islands generally feature a very high percentage of unoccupied
burrows, with an average of more than 70% of burrows being unoccupied.
Similar breeding sites in the Straits of Magellan hold less than
half the proportion of unoccupied burrows (< 35%), suggesting lower
levels of adult mortality or higher levels of recruitment (Bingham
1998). There is no commercial fishing activity around the Straits
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