The Humboldt penguin, or Spheniscus humboldti, is a species of penguin native to the coastal regions of Chile and Peru, that, on average, grows to be anywhere from 38 - 69 cm tall, and weigh nearly 4 kg. The average life span for a Humboldt penguin is about 20 years. While the Humboldt penguins are marine creatures, they usually live near cliffs, or other rocky terrain close to the coast. In the wild, their diet consists mainly of anchovies, herring and smelt. Humboldt penguins live in groups, referred to as colonies, where they provide protection for each other. An interesting fact about Humboldt penguins is that they are monogamous, like all other penguins, and are able to recognize their mates by their distinct and unique calls. This call is also a helpful identification mechanism used between parents and their young.
Humboldt penguins reach sexual maturity around the age of five, at which age they take a life mate. With their mate the penguins find an appropriate nesting ground, usually a cave or rocky shore, where the female will lay one or two eggs. Each parent alternates incubation of the egg(s), for an average of 40 days. Once the young are born, it is common for only one newborn to survive, whether it is due to competition, food scarcity, or physical deformity/inability. Young penguins take roughly 80 days to fledge, and after that it takes about a year for their "adult" feathers to grow.
Like all other penguins, the Humboldt penguins are flightless, but it is believed that, at one time, when they first came into existence (37 to 45 million years ago), penguins could actually fly. However, due to natural selection, this ability to fly was lost in favor of impressive swimming skills. The Humboldt penguins' "wings" changed into more bony flippers that allow them to swim at speeds of nearly 20 miles per hour. The closest living relatives to the Humboldt penguin are the albatross, petrel, and shearwater. Despite other similarities (being flightless, or similar appearance), the Humboldt penguin is not (relatively) closely related to the ostrich, emu, rhea, puffin, or razorbill.
Currently, Humboldt penguins are an endangered species, with only 10,000 - 12,000 of these penguins alive today. The penguins' decline is attributed to humans, who have sought out the Humboldts for their meat, oil, skins, guano (feces), and eggs. In fact, in the Falkland Islands, there is a national holiday, appropriately called National Penguin Day, where all children are exempt from school, with the understanding that they will gather penguin eggs. Another less blatant threat to the Humboldt penguins are fishing nets, which ensnare and drown many penguins annually. Finally, a more "natural" cause of penguin deaths is the increase in ocean temperatures, as was seen with El Nino, where nearly 65% of the total Humboldt penguin population in Peru was lost.
There are currently measures being taken to preserve the Humboldt penguin. One such measure taken was a ban on the collection of penguin guano and eggs in Peru and Chile. Another method of preserving this endangered species is by breeding them in captivity, in zoos around the world. Currently, the effort in the U.S. to stabilize the Humboldt penguin population is headed by the Chicago Zoological Park.
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