Chinstrap Penguin, Pygoscelis antarctica
Cool Fact: Chinstrap penguins are the only species of penguins that have an all-white face
Where It’s Found: Primarily on the Antarctic Peninsula (Half-Moon Island, Deception Island, Hydrogas Rocks), to the South Sandwich Islands and South Orkney Islands
· IUCN Status: Least Concern
· Population: over 7 million, the most numerous penguin, but declining
· Mating: highly monogamous
· Nesting: stone nests, one to two chicks, incubation of 37 days
· Life Span: 16-20 years
· Diving: 200 feet, can stay down for a minute; one of the fastest penguins, can reach 20 mph
· Food: largest part of its diet is krill, the small crustacean so important to the Antarctic food chain—up to 80%
· Threats: reductions in krill (increasingly harvested by humans), interactions with fisheries
First Sighting: January 9, 2006, Half Moon Island, Antarctic Peninsula
Susan and I made our first landing in Antarctica on Half Moon Island. On the shore to greet us as we swung out of our Zodiacs were several chinstrap penguins. We were exhilarated to see them! The moment felt almost overwhelming, in the best possible way. The chinstraps stood on the pebbled beach, watching us with obvious interest. They were going out and returning from the sea. As we stood on the beach, one chinstrap penguin walked up to me and poked at my rubber boots. What joy!
They are an especially handsome penguin, with a strongly defined contrast between their black backs and bright white stomachs. They have a black cap and white face. The thin line of black feathers on their chins looks like a chinstrap holding their caps in place! This chinstrap gives them a slight military bearing.
We walked up the beach to a rocky outcropping. Several pairs of chinstraps were nesting on the rocks. I was struck by how much the penguins interacted with each other. Perhaps because they are so social, forming nesting colonies of hundreds of thousands birds, chinstrap penguins have a reputation for being quarrelsome, even aggressive. Chinstrap penguins are also highly communicative: head and flipper waving, calling, bowing, gesturing and preening. Stares, beak-pointing and charging may occur when territorial disputes arise.
Around the back side of this stone outcropping, I found a chinstrap penguin on a more-or-less isolated ledge of rock. It lifted its black beak and pointed it strait upward. Wings flapping wildly, it began to call. Harsh. Unmusical. Other penguins rose up and began calling as well.
The chinstrap penguin was giving what is described as an “ecstasy call.” This highly colorful term was coined over a century ago by a biologist with Robert Falcon Scott. Despite its obvious anthropomorphism, the term has stuck—even among biologists. It’s easy to see why, because the call seems so intense and expressive. The chinstrap was surrounded by stunning mountain peaks covered with snow. With these overwhelmingly beautiful views, and a penguin in the throes of “ecstasy,” I felt like answering with my own ecstasy call.
Open yourself up to joy. Give yourself to the moment. Know your ecstasy call.
This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”