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Gentoo Penguins

Picture: Gentoo Penguin with Chick. Gold Harbour. South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989

Gentoo Penguins

Gentoo penguins are one of three species of penguin called stiff-tailed, brush tailed or long tailed penguins which have longer tails than most other penguins, the gentoo having the longest of all. Its latin name is pygoscelis papua which means elbow legs.


It has a black head with triangular white splodges above the eyes linked by a band of white. Its breast is white and the rest of the body black. Its beak is long, very pointed and black on the top with a reddish orange flash either side of the mouth. Its eyes are brown and its feet yellowy orange. It weighs 6 kg (13 lb) and is about 30 inches (76cm) tall. They have pink feet.

It is claimed that they are the fastest swimming penguins in the world.

Where the Gentoos Nest

Picture: Gentoo Colony on Carcass Island. Falklands. 23 Dec 1989.

The name gentoo may come from the anglo-indian word gentoo=hindu. Perhaps the white splodges reminded someone of a turban. It has also been suggested that it might come from Portuguese gentio, gentile (non-jewish).

It nests on the Falklands, Heard Island, South Georgia, South Shetlands and the Antarctic Peninsula. The world population is estimated at 300,000 with 100,000 on South Georgia, 70,000 on the Falklands and 30,000 on Kerguelen.

Tussock Penguins

Picture: Gentoo Nests in the Tussock Grass. Gold Harbour. South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989.

The more southerly gentoos are smaller and have smaller flippers, feet and beak. At one stage the more southerly penguins were thought to be a separate sub species called Ellsworth penguins after the explorer Lincoln Ellsworth who first caught some of them.

Gentoo penguins like to nest in the tussock grass, like on South Georgia and at one time were called tussock penguins.

Gentoo Chick Rearing

Picture: A Nest of Stones. Gold Harbour. South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989.

Where there is no tussock grass they scrape hollows in the ground and line them with little stones and bits of vegetation, such as moss and seaweed.

On South Georgia eggs are laid in mid to late October and on the Antarctic Peninsula mid to late November. It takes 70-90 days from hatching to fledging, incubation being about 36 days , brooding 28 days. Usually the male takes the first two weeks incubation shift after the eggs are laid.

Guarding the Chicks

Picture:A Nest in the Peaty Tussock. Gold Harbour. South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989.

When a parent comes back to relieve its mate there is the usual penguin greeting ceremony: calling bills in the air and wings flapping. Two eggs are laid and both chicks hatch. The chicks are pale grey with darker grey on the head.

Gentoos eat krill, small squid and small fish. They hunt for krill near to the shore and close to the surface but when hunting for small fish go deeper to the sea bed.

Fully Fledged Chicks

Picture:Twin Gentoos Almost Fully Fledged. Soon Ready to Go to Sea and be Independent. Gold Harbour. South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989.

After the chicks are independent the penguins all return to the sea for a few weeks then return to the nest sites to moult. If the nest sites stay ice free some penguins may stay all winter there.

One of the Shyer Penguins

Picture: Gentoos are One of the More Timid Penguins. Here they are Hurrying Past the More Stately and Relaxed Kings. Gold Harbour South Georgia. 29 Dec 1989.

Gentoos are shyer than many other penguins and I found that in many of my photographs of Antarctic species there is the odd gentoo sneaking past in the background or rubber-necking at a safe distance.
Despite their timidity they will be very brave when defending their chicks. A warden on Australia's Macquarie Island told us of a gentoo actually killing a predatory skua, one of the main predators on the gentoo colonies.

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Antarctic & Other Penguins Home Page |Penguin Food Chain |The Original Penguin - The Great Auk |Prehistoric Penguins |Emperor Penguins |King Penguins |Gentoo Penguins |Chinstrap Penguins |Adelie Penguins |Macaroni Penguins |Rockhopper Penguins |Royal Penguins |Yellow Eyed Penguins |Erect Crested Penguins |Snares Island Crested Penguins |Fiordland Crested Penguins |African Penguins |Magellanic Penguins |Humboldt Penguins |Galapagos Penguins |Little Blue Penguins |White Flippered Penguins |Penguins - Historic Glimpses |Penguin Art Gallery |Message Board |Guestbook |Mail Form