Antarctic Peninsula, Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands
Nest on flat or rocky beaches and beach grass; feed in cold nearshore waters
Near Threatened With Extinction
Order Sphenisciformes, Family Spheniscidae
Rather than the standard tuxedo appearance of many other penguin species, gentoo penguins are characterized by bright orange-red bills and unusual white patches above the eyes that make them stand out in a crowd. Gentoo penguins are most closely related to Adélie and chinstrap penguins, all of which live on the Antarctic Peninsula.
Gentoo penguins are native to sub-Antarctic islands where chilly temperatures allow for ideal breeding, foraging and nesting conditions. Despite living in cold climates, gentoo penguins typically live in ice-free areas like flat, rocky beaches and low-lying cliffs where large colonies of individuals can gather. Like other penguin species, gentoo penguins rely on the ocean for food and are never far from the water. These penguins take advantage of stream-lined bodies and strong “flippers” in the water to dive more than 600 feet deep and swim up to 22 miles an hour, the fastest of any other diving bird. Gentoo penguins primarily feed on crustaceans, fish and squid. Adult gentoo penguins are relatively small, weighing about 12 pounds and standing 30 inches tall on average.
When it comes to breeding and nesting, gentoo penguins have been dubbed one of the more romantic seabirds in the animal kingdom. Gentoo penguin pairs start by building intricate nests of rocks and pebbles together, and individual pebbles may be shared between potential mates beforehand as a sign that they are interested in becoming a breeding pair. The nests are then used for laying the egg in during incubation, which lasts for close to 40 days. Males and females work together closely during the process, taking turns incubating the egg and forming long-lasting bonds with each other that continue after the chick has hatched. Many gentoo penguins, once reaching sexual maturity at around 2 years old, will return to previous nesting sites year after year.
Gentoo penguins are listed as near threatened on the IUCN Red List, largely because of apparent significant population declines on the sub-Antarctic islands on which they live. Collection of gentoo eggs used to be widespread in parts of their range, but today increasing oil exploration, tourism and interactions with fisheries threaten populations.