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Chinstrap Penguin


Chinstrap Penguin - Adult

Chinstrap Penguin - Adult

Liam Quinn

Named for its unique facial markings, the chinstrap penguin is one of the most easily recognized penguin species and one of only two species – the other being the royal penguin – with extensive white on the face.

Common Name:

Chinstrap Penguin, Ringed Penguin, Bearded Penguin, Stonecracker Penguin

Scientific Name:

Pygoscelis antarctica or Pygoscelis antarcticus

Scientific Family:



  • Bill: Thick, straight, curved culmen toward the tip, black or blackish-gray
  • Size: 28-30 inches long with 20-23-inch wingspan, short neck, long, brushlike tail
  • Colors: Black, white, pink, gray, blue-black
  • Markings: Genders are similar though males are generally larger and heavier than females. The crown and upperparts, including the tail, are black or may show a bluish-black sheen in bright sunlight. The flippers are black with thin white edges. The underparts are plain white. The white face has a thin black line stretching from the rear of the crown through the auriculars and across the chin. The eyes are reddish brown with a thin black eye ring, and the legs and feet are pink with black talons and black soles.

    When very young, the chicks are covered with a fluffy gray down, and as they mature they are grayish with less well defined facial markings and some black spots on the face. Juveniles also have slightly shorter bills.

    Species is monotypic.


Krill, fish, squid, shrimp (See: Piscivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

These penguins are breed on bare, rocky islands and cliffs near Antarctica, as well as on some areas of the Antarctic mainland. As pelagic birds, they spend much of the non-breeding season at sea but generally stay near their breeding range.

Vagrant sightings have been reported on rare occasions as far as the southern tip of South America and the southern coast of Australia.


These are relatively vocal penguins with a variety of raspy croaks or honking calls with a medium pitch. These calls are repeated in an even sequence, but the number of repetitions varies greatly. The speed can also vary to indicate urgency.


Chinstrap penguins are one of the most aggressive penguin species and will fight with one another early in the breeding season, usually with individuals they see as competition for nesting sites. They will also steal pebbles from one another’s nests.

These penguins forage in relatively shallow water with dives typically under 100 feet deep, but they are agile swimmers and will dive deeper if krill populations or other food sources are limited.


These birds are colonial nesters that may mate for life. Thousands or tens of thousands of mated pairs may be in the same small area during the breeding season, even with other penguins including gentoo penguins, Adelie penguins and other seabirds. Pairs form after courtship displays that include screeching vocalizations, mutual preening, bowing and postures with the head pointed upwards. The nest, built by both partners, is a small, round mound of pebbles built on bare ground free of ice or snow, and the parents will continue to add to the nest even after the chicks have hatched.

Two off-white eggs, possibly stained with brownish splotches, are laid per brood, and only one brood of chicks is hatched each year. Both parents share incubation duties for 36-38 days, developing a brood patch to better warm the eggs. Both parents continue to care for the chicks after hatching, and for about 30 days the chicks stay in a large group of other chicks, called a crèche. At 55-60 days old, the young penguins are fully fledged and on their own.

Attracting Chinstrap Penguins:

No penguins are backyard birds, but birders who want to see chinstrap penguins can add these birds to their life list through tours and cruises to the birds’ breeding grounds. These birds are not afraid of humans and will readily come up to visitors in curiosity, providing excellent opportunities for observation or photographs. Chinstraps are also popular penguins in many aquariums and zoos.


Chinstrap penguins have a worldwide population estimated at 12-15 million birds, making them the second most populous penguin species – only macaroni penguins are more numerous. While they are not threatened or endangered, they do face continual predation from leopard seals and skuas. Climate change can make foraging more difficult as krill patterns change relative to water temperature, and disruption of nesting colonies by tourists can be damaging if the excursions are not regulated. While some colonies of chinstrap penguins have decreased in recent years, new colonies have formed and their population numbers are increasing overall.

Similar Birds:

  • Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)
  • Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Photo – Chinstrap Penguin – Adult © Liam Quinn

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