email a friend
printable version
Humboldt Penguin Spheniscus humboldti
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has undergone extreme population size fluctuations, (close to one order of magnitude) at major colonies in Chile. However, an overall reduction in the number of breeding colonies indicates that there is probably an ongoing, underlying rapid decline in numbers. It consequently qualifies as Vulnerable.

Taxonomic source(s)
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #

65 cm. Medium-sized, black-and-white penguin. Black head with white border extending from eye around ear-coverts and chin, and joining on throat. Blackish-grey upperparts. Whitish underparts with black breast-band extending down flanks to thigh. Fleshy-pink base to bill. Juvenile has wholly dark head (greyer on sides and chin) and lacks breast-band. Similar spp. Magellanic Penguin S. magellanicus has broader white stripe on head and has more than one breast-band.

Distribution and population
Spheniscus humboldti occurs in coastal Peru and Chile with vagrants recorded north to Colombia (Morales Sanchez 1988). It has been declining since the mid-19th century, but the 1982-1983 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) reduced the population from 19,000-21,000 birds to 5,180-6,080 (Hays 1984, Hays 1986, Ellis et al. 1998). By 1995-1996, this had increased to 10,000-12,000 birds (Cheney 1998). The 1997-1998 ENSO resulted in further declines to 3,300 birds (P. Majluf in litt. 1999). In Peru, the number of colonies declined from 17 in 1981 to two in 1996 (Ellis et al. 1998), but had recovered to six by 1999 (T. Valqui in litt. 1999). In 2000, 78% of the total Peruvian population of 4,425 birds was clustered in just five colonies (Paredes et al. 2003). A survey in 2004 estimated a total population of around 5,000 individuals, with birds present at 21 sites, 16 of which were considered breeding sites, although only 6 of these held more than 200 birds (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). The size and distribution of colonies in Peru changed considerably during the period 1984-1999, with proportionally more on the southern coast and fewer in the north and central coastal areas in 1999 (Paredes et al. 2003). In Chile, it has bred at 14 sites, but at only 10 recently (Ellis et al. 1998). Surveys in 2002 found nesting at 9 islands, with a total population of 9,000 pairs, 7,000 of which were at Chañaral Island. A repeat visit to Chañaral in 2003 recorded 20,000 individuals, mostly moulting (Ayala et al. 2007). In 1998, a population and habitat viability analysis suggested that extinction was likely within 100 years (Cheney 1998).

Population justification
The population estimate of 3,300-12,000 individuals is derived from P. Majluf in litt. (1999). In light of this it is best placed in the band 2,500-9,999 mature individuals.

Trend justification
Based on analysis of data in Ellis et al. (1998), Hays (1984, 1986) and from P. Majluf in litt. (1999).

Breeding site It nests on islands and rocky coastal stretches, burrowing holes in guano and occasionally using scrape nests or caves (Cheney 1998, Ellis et al. 1998). It apparently prefers to breed on slopes at high elevation sites where guano deposits are available for burrow excavation (Paredes and Zavalaga 2001). Reproductive behaviour Breeding occurs year-round, but has two peaks, in May and July and from September to December. Reproductive success is reported as low, especially in Chile (Cheney 1998), though considerably higher at one rookery in Peru (Punta San Juan) (Paredes and Zavalaga 2001). Migratory range There may be an extended migration route of c.700 km from Peru to north Chile, and adult birds regularly disperse up to 170 km in Peru and occasionally over 600 km (Culik and Luna-Jorquera 1997, Wallace et al. 1999). Diet It feeds on schooling anchoveta Engraulis ringens, squid and other small fish, mainly caught in inshore waters, with failed breeders travelling further afield, as do breeders during ENSO years (Taylor et al. 2004). Foraging range Humboldt Penguins are central place foragers during the breeding season, since they must return to their nests between foraging trips. As a pelagic predator, the Humboldt Penguin is highly dependent on predictable food resources in coastal waters near its nesting sites (Taylor et al. 2001). It typically makes short, shallow dives within 30 m of the surface (Taylor et al. 2001). At Isla Pan de Azúcar, Chile, it was found that maximum dive depth was 53 m. Mean distance travelled during foraging trips was 26.5 km, with a minimum and maximum distance of 8.1 and 68.7 km respectively. 90% of the birds remained within 35 km of their breeding colony (Culik et al. 1998, Luna-Jorquera and Culik 1999). At Punta San Juan, Peru, the average maximum distance from the colony of all foraging trips was 19.8 km (Boersma et al. 2006). Following breeding failure, non-breeding birds take longer foraging trips, make deeper and longer dives and dive less often per hour at sea than do breeding birds (Taylor et al. 2002). Mean and maximum foraging trip duration were both significantly longer in failed breeders than in breeding birds (Taylor et al. 2004).

The primary threats for this species are mortality caused by entanglement in artisanal fishery nets, illegal capture for consumption and the pet trade (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). Historical declines resulted from over-exploitation of guano (Williams, T. D. 1995). Guano is still harvested in Peru, and likely limits the availability of preferred nesting habitat (Paredes and Zavalaga 2001). Severe fluctuations in numbers are caused by (apparently increasing) ENSO events, and more recent underlying declines probably relate to over-fishing of anchoveta Engraulis spp. stocks (Williams, T. D. 1995, Cheney 1998, Wallace et al. 1999). Other threats include capture for use as fish bait, use of explosives by fishermen, mining activities, human disturbance, predation by Andean fox, rats and cats, and marine pollution (Cheney 1998, Ellis et al. 1998, Ayala et al. 2007). One of the major breeding sites in northern Chile is currently threatened by the construction of two coal-fired power stations (G. Knauf in litt. 2009).

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix I. CMS Appendix I. In Chile there is a 30-year moratorium (from 1995) on hunting and capture, and the four major colonies (not including intertidal and marine areas) are protected (Vilina et al. 1995, Cheney 1998). In Peru, 12 of the principal colonies are legally protected by the government institute managing guano extraction (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). There are walls and guards at some sites, and extraction is designed to have a minimal impact at Punta San Juan (Cheney 1998, P. Majluf in litt. 1999). Campaigning has prevented the construction of one coal mine at Punta Choros, though two more may still be built (G. Knauf in litt. 2009). Conservation Actions Proposed
Monitor the population throughout its breeding range (Ellis et al. 1998). Protect breeding sites and regulate guano harvesting (Ellis et al. 1998). Create marine reserves around colonies (Ellis et al. 1998). Establish awareness programmes around key colonies to reduce hunting and bycatch (Ellis et al. 1998, American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007). Reduce fish harvests around major colonies (American Bird Conservancy in litt. 2007) and elsewhere during ENSO events (Ellis et al. 1998). Improve waste treatment in coastal regions (Ellis et al. 1998).

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Ayala, L.; Sánchez, R.; Kelez, S.; and Vásquez, F. 2007. Estudio poblacional del Pingüino de Humboldt Spheniscus humboldti en la costa centro y sur del Perú en el invierno del 2004.

Boersma, P. D.; Redstock, G. A.; Stokes, D. L.; Majluf P. 2006. Oceans apart: conservation models for two temperate penguin species shaped by the marine environment. Marine Ecology Progress Series 335: 217-225.

Cheney, C. 1998. The current situation of the Humbolt Penguin in Chile and Peru: a report from the population and habitat viability analysis meeting, part 1. Penguin Conservation 11: 4-9.

Culik, B. M.; Luna-Jorquera, G. 1997. Satellite tracking of Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) in northern Chile. Marine Biology 128: 547-556.

Ellis, S.; Croxall, J. P.; Cooper, J. 1998. Penguin conservation assessment and management plan: report from the workshop held 8-9 September 1996, Cape Town, South Africa. IUCN/SSC, Apple Valley, USA.

Hays, C. 1984. The Humboldt Penguin in Peru. Oryx 18: 92-95.

Hays, C. 1986. Effects of the 1982-83 El Niño on Humboldt Penguin colonies in Peru. Biological Conservation 36: 169-180.

Luna-Jorquera, G. and Culik, B.M. 1999. Diving behaviour of Humboldt penguins Spheniscus humboldti in northern Chile. Marine Ornithology 27: 67-76.

Morales Sanchez, J. E. 1988. Confirmación de la presencia de Spheniscus humboldti Meyen (Aves: Spheniscidae) Para Colombia. Trianea (Acta Cientifica y Tecnologia INDERENA): 141-143.

Paredes, R.; Zavalaga, C. B. 2001. Nesting sites and nest types as important factors for the conservation of Humboldt Penguins (Sphensicus humboldti). Biological Conservation 100: 199-205.

Paredes, R.; Zavalaga, C. B.; Battistini, G.; Majluf, P.; McGill, P. 2003. Status of the Humboldt Penguin in Peru, 1999-2000. Waterbirds 26: 129-138.

Taylor S.S; Leonard M.L; Boness D.J. 2001. Foraging trip duration increases for Humboldt Penguins tagged with recording devices. Journal of Avian Biology 32(4): 369-372.

Taylor, S.S.; Leonard, M. L.; Boness, D.J.; Majluf, P. 2004. Humboldt Penguins Spheniscus humboldti change their foraging behaviour following breeding failure. Marine Ornithology 32: 63-67.

Taylor, SS ; Leonard, ML ; Boness, DJ ; Majluf, P. 2002. Foraging by Humboldt penguins (Spheniscus humboldti) during the chick-rearing period: general patterns, sex differences, and recommendations to reduce incidental catches in fishing nets . Canadian Journal Of Zoology-Revue Canadienne De Zoologie 80(4): 700-707.

Vilina, Y. A.; Capella, J. J.; González, J.; Gibbons, J. E. 1995. Apuntes para la conservación de las aves de la reserva nacional Pingüino de Humboldt. Boletín Chileno de Ornitología: 2-6.

Wallace, R. S.; Grzybowski, K.; Diebold, E.; Michaels, M. G.; Tear, J. A.; Willis, M. J. 1999. Movements of Humboldt Penguins from a breeding colony in Chile. Waterbirds 22: 441-444.

Williams, T. D. 1995. The penguins Spheniscidae. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Benstead, P., Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Capper, D., Clay, R., Hatchett, J., Lascelles, B.

Knauf, G., Majluf, P., Roca, M., Valqui, T.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Spheniscus humboldti. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 28/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Humboldt penguin (Spheniscus humboldti) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Spheniscidae (Penguins)
Species name author Meyen, 1834
Population size 2500-9999 mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 73,300 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species