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The Magellanic Penguin, One Famous Black and White BirdGail Parker Salem-News.com
El pinguino patagonico stands about 18 inches high. Knee-high to a tourist you might say.
(PATAGONIA) - Punta Tombo near Puerto Madryn on the Atlantic coast of Chubut Province, Argentina is the biggest mainland penguin colony on the South American continent. In late November we went to see the Magellanic penguin (pinguino patagonico) Spheniscus Mangellanicus.
When we arrived at the parking lot and were greeted by a penguin nesting just a few feet from the car, I began to laugh. I couldn’t help myself.
As we strolled down the marked path among these adorable little magellanic penguins I continued to laugh. I began to imitate the penguin waddle (wings out for balance) and kept laughing and waddling as we progressed into the throng of millions.
Despite the huge numbers, our ornithologist friend says that in the 1970’s there were many, many more penguins. Senor Ors Kovacs had worked at the colony documenting and counting the penguins for many years.
The penguins, the order sphenisciformes are a group of primitive birds that adapted to aquatic life and are found exclusively in the southern hemisphere mostly in regions arctic and subarctic.
The overall characteristics of the famously black and white bird are the strong beak, medium sized head on a short, flexible neck, a body tapered at both ends and wider in the middle making it more hydrodynamic, articulated shoulders beneficial for swimming and short, fat feet with three toes in front and one behind. The plumage is short, rigid, compact and totally water impermeable. They screech a loud trumpet call.
El pinguino patagonico stands about 18 inches high. Knee- high to a tourist you might say. The sexes look the same. The eye is dark grey, the iris brownish gray, rosy patch around the eye and a rose line below the beak on the upper throat.
The outstanding feature is the white eyebrow that continues as a line between the black chin and white collar. There is a black line on the white flank, the feet are gray.
We were there just as the eggs were nearly all hatched. The nesting begins in September when the arid coastal landscape is invaded by the birds which live half their lives at sea. Really, the nests are little more than a hollowed out depression on the sandy terrain often below scrub brush. Two white eggs are laid.
The penguin parents sit on their nests, trading duties - going to and coming from the sea - and warding off intruders, hoping to have at least one of the two hatched chicks reach adulthood. The chicks are born with abundant gray plumage on the back and the front is whitish. The young are lighter than the adults and often have a double collar.
Often one chick takes all the food or maybe a predator gets one.
In The Illustrated Mannual of the Birds of Patagonia, the Kovacs say that at times you can see all the penguins stand at the mouth of their caves and nests to watch the sun go down at the end of the day.
There were hordes of international tourists with expensive camera gear and look-alike state of the art beige travel clothing with zip-off legs and lots of pockets for lots of stuff. And they were taking their penguins very seriously.
I saw a pair of bird watchers spending fifteen minutes or more digitally capturing the freaked out mother penguin who sat atop her two fuzzy little ones. She kept glancing from the skua (the brown bird of prey made infamous by Happy Feet) behind her to the humans in front of her, both no more than 2 or 3 feet away, and I wondered if she would have a nervous breakdown and abandon her nest due to stress.
I began to grow nervous myself wondering if the penguins were in more danger from climate change or the human visitors. As we headed back, I strayed off the path and was scolded back by a park ranger, and realized I was a danger to the pinguinos myself.
Really, ecotourism is an oxymoron.
Gail Parker is a writer and photographer who lives in Argentina. She and her lifetime mate and husband Eddie Zawaski, who also writes for Salem-News.com, are former resident of Oregon, Gail has a great eye for memorable photos in this lush place called Patagonia. Her observations from this amazing wonderland of nature are a fun and welcome addition to our story flow. Watch for Gail's wonderful coverage of the birds of Patagonia in future stories and photojournals here on Salem-News.com.
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