Status of Rockhopper and Macaroni Penguins along the coast of Chile
Southern Rockhopper Penguin
Below, please find a summary of the Southern Rockhopper and Macaroni penguin studies that Feather Link has been enthusiastically participating in to help conserve these birds and the areas that they need to survive. Our important efforts continue, as populations of these penguins decline in areas throughout their range. If you would like to help in these efforts, please read on and contact us to become a valuable investor in the future of these charismatic birds. The Southern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes c. chrysocome) and Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus) along the coast of Chile are restricted to the southern islands with estimated populations of 75,000 -150,000 and 25,000 -75,000 individuals, respectively. Both taxa have been classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN/BirdLife International Red List  because of declining populations of at least 30% over the last 30 years, and continued anthropogenic pressures, (e.g., fisheries activities) and changes in the marine environment.
Schlatter, R. P. 1984. The status and conservation of seabirds in Chile. Status and conservation of the world’s seabirds (J.P. Croxall, P.G.H. Evens, and R.W. Schreiber, Editors). ICBP Technical Publication 2. ICBP, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Woehler, E. J. 1993. The distribution and abundance of Antarctic and subantarctic penguins. SCAR/Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
BirdLife International 2007. Species factsheet: Eudyptes chrysocome &Eudyptes chrysolophus.http://ww.birdlife.org(accessed 7 June 2007).
A Rockhopper Penguin with a geolocational archival tag, on Isla Terhalten, Chile
The number of Southern Rockhoppers in Chile was estimated to be 175,000 pairs with the largest colonies of 70,000 and 13,000 pairs on Isla Noir and Diego Ramirez Islands, respectively. However, there is no comprehensive program to monitor long-term population trends. The colony of 70,000 pairs on Isla Noir was estimated to contain 35% of the total number along the coast of Chile. Isla Terhalten: Our yacht-based census in 2005 estimated approximately 1000 Rockhopper Penguin nests within the colony on Isla Terhalten. In 2007, our land-based observations indicate that there are approximately 3000 nests on this island. Isla Noir: We surveyed Isla Noir in 2005 and determined the total area of all colonies was 31.61 hectares, producing a population estimate of 158,200 (95% CI 139716,176700) Rockhopper Penguin pairs for all colonies combined. For occupied nests in the random quadrats within the colonies, 98% of pairs were incubating eggs, with the remainder attending empty nests.
Isla Recalada: No active nest sites or individual crested penguins were found in any of the Rockhopper or Macaroni penguin colonies on Isla Recalada during our survey in 2005. Evidence of historic nesting colonies was present with clearly defined paths and remnants of individual nest cups within areas of tussock grasses. Ildefonso: Kirkwood (2007) estimated there were 86,400 (54,000 to 135,000) Rockhopper pairs Ildefonso. Diego Ramírez: Kirkwood (2007) estimated there were 132,721 (88,860 to 185,665) Rockhopper pairs at Diego Ramírez during the 2005 season.
Monitoring of penguin colonies must continue to be implemented along the coast of Chile to estimate population size, status, and population trends. These efforts will allow for implementation of conservation efforts within specific areas involving important penguin populations during possible shifts in populations due to prey availability and detrimental anthropogenic activities. There is a need to immediately to establish procedures and to control collecting expeditions as suggested by Venegas (1991). Our study represents the first complete inventory of Rockhopper numbers on Isla Noir through direct observation of each individual colony using standardized methodology. The population trends of the Southern Rockhopper Penguins on Isla Noir appear to mirror documented increases along the coast of Argentina. Previously published estimates of 70,000 pairs of Southern Rockhopper Penguins on Isla Noir (Venegas 1984) are significantly lower than the 158,200 [139716,176700] pairs of Rockhoppers present in November of 2005 and reported here. However, site inventories by Venegas (1984) did not encompass the entire island and occurred during the later portion of the breeding season (the month of December). Inability to access all of the colonies and attrition due to nest failure could partially account for the lower counts in 1983. While the initial survey by Venegas (1984) described a significant population of Southern Rockhopper Penguins on Isla Noir, those results may have underestimated the population size and thus cannot reliably be used to demonstrate an increase in the population since 1983.
These data also support designation of Isla Noir as an important nesting area for Southern Rockhopper Penguins. Sustainable management of Isla Noir for nesting Rockhoppers would require additional legal protection for the island. Developing such a management scheme requires detailed information on the population and further study into the biology of the penguins, including foraging areas and population recruitment. Presently, Isla Noir is not within Chile’s park system, lacks statutory protection and is not monitored as closely as other areas containing penguin colonies. Management of Isla Noir would offer future protection for the existing population of Rockhoppers and provide a favorable breeding site that may attract birds from regions where populations are under adverse pressures.
2008/2009Season In November of 2007, we began to collect feathers from colonies along the coast of Chile. Initial deployment of geolocator archival tags also began that year. Retrieval of tags is scheduled for November 2008. Development of known penguin microsatellite primers for amplification via polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is presently underway. Final genetic evaluation will be completed in 2009. The tracking of these penguins is the initial step of an international collaboration involving the recording of the annual movements of the Rockhopper Penguins after they leave their breeding sites on Isla Noir. Future investigations will couple the known movements of the Rockhopper Penguins at Isla Noir with genetic samples taken from birds within these colonies and those along the Diego Ramírez Archipelagos, Chile and Staten Island, Argentina. To date genetic materials have been obtained from adults in the field at Isla Noir and we are exploring the possible collection and tracking of penguins in the areas aforementioned. Plans to collect additional samples from captive specimens, from Isla Recalada, are underway since the wild population no longer can be found on that island. The primary objective of this tracking project is to examine the movement of Rockhopper Penguins along the coast of Chile and to determine if these birds incurred any recruitment from the Argentine populations. The genetic study will augment data gathered via the tracking of individual birds. Populations of Southern Rockhopper Penguins at important breeding sites, in the Southern Hemisphere, have declined substantially in the past 50 years, with the status of major breeding sites in southern Chile being poorly documented.In addition to providing foraging ranges and of rates of gene flow, the work is a necessary first step in the definition of conservation management units. This has important implications, as several Rockhopper Penguin populations, notably those at the Falkland Islands, have declining as a result of over fishing.
Feather Link is looking for environmentally active investors to sponsor the tracking of individual penguins for the 2008 season. Tracking efforts are expensive, although the information that we gather is imperative for saving the foraging areas these birds need once they leave the breeding areas. For $1,200 you can help track one penguin for an entire year. Please contact David Oehler at if you would like to help!
Venegas, C. 1984. Estado de las poblaciones de Pinguino de Penacho Amarillo y Macaroni en la Isla Noir, Chile. Informe Instituto de la Patagonia, Punta Arenas. Chile 33: 25.
Venegas, C. C. 1991. Estudio de cuantificación poblacional de pingüinos crestados en isla Recalada. Convenio CONAF-UMAG. Informe de Investigación, Intituto de la Patagonia, Punta, Arenas, Chile 55:23.
Venegas, C. 1998. Pinguinos crestados (Eudyptes chrysocome Forster 1781, E. chrysolophus Brant 1837) y de Magallanes (Spheniscus megellanicus Forster 1781) en Isla Noir, Chile. Anales del Instituto de la Patagonia 26: 59-67.
Schiavini, A. C. M. 2000. Staten Island, Tierra del Fuego: the largest breeding ground for southern rockhopper penguins? Waterbirds 23: 286-291.
Newly discovered colony of Macaroni Penguins in Leonard Island
Macaroni Penguin populations along South America may be stable although sufficient data are lacking to identify trends. Small colonies of Macaroni Penguins have been described on Cabo Pilar, Isla Desolacion, Isla Diego Ramirez, Isla Deceit, Isla Terhalten and Isla Recalada, Chile. The population on Isla Recalada declined from 559 in 1989, to 421 in 1990 with no Macaroni Penguins observed in 1991 and 2005. Total number of pairs on Isla Noir has been estimated from 12,500 to 25,000.
Islote Leonard: Our survey in 2005, documented a previously unrecorded colony of Macaroni Penguins on Islote Leonard (four nautical miles southeast of Isla Recalada). Direct counts recorded 132 (±4) occupied nests and 96% of Macaroni Penguins on nests were incubating eggs, with the remaining pairs attending empty nests.
Isla Noir/Macaroni Penguin --- We use the quadrats from the Rockhopper census to estimate a total of 1,649 (95% CI 386,2913) of Macaroni nests within the Rockhopper colonies. In the main Macaroni Penguin colony on Isla Noir, direct counts recorded 1,816 (±55) occupied nests. Combined with the estimated numbers within the Rockhopper colonies, we documented a total of 3,470 [2157,4784] Macaroni Penguin nests on Isla Noir. 100% of Macaroni Penguins on nests within the mixed colonies were incubating eggs. Within the main Macaroni colony 96% were incubating eggs on nests, with the remaining pairs attending empty nests.
Ildefonso & Diego Ramírez: Kirkwood (2007) reports 5,660 (2,280 to 11,900) Macaroni pairs at Ildefonso, and about 15,600 Macaroni pairs at Diego Ramírez.
Araya, B. and G. Millie. 1986. Guia de campo de las aves de Chile. Editorial Universitaria, Santiago de Chile.
Wallace, G. E. 1991. Noteworthy bird records from southernmost Chile. Condor, 93:175-176.
Soto, N. 1990. Proyecto de protección y manejo de las colonias de pingüinos presentes en isla Rupert e isla Recalada, Reserva Nacional Alacalufes. Informe de temporada 1989-1990. CONAF-XII Region, Punta Arenas, Chile. pp 29.
Venegas, C. and N. Soto. 1992. Estudio de pingüinos eudyptidos en isla Recalada, R.N. Alacalufes, Chile. Informe Convernio UMAG-CONAF, Punta Arenas, Chile. pp 32.
Oehler, D. A., W. R. Fry, L. A.Weakley and M. Marin. 2007. Rockhopper and Macaroni Penguin colonies Absent from Isla Recalada, Chile. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 119:502-506.
This work was supported through Feather Link, Inc. by grants-in-aid for scientific research from local and international foundations. We thank Brian and Holly Hunt of African Safari Wildlife Park, Indianapolis Chapter of the American Association of Zoo Keepers, Faunia, Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, and the Wave Foundation of the Newport Aquarium for financial support of this and past expeditions. We also thank Bob Brinkman at Woolpert LLP for assistance with the AutoCAD system, and Claudio Venegas for support. We express special appreciation to our contacts in Chile, the crew of the Chonos, staff members of Fantastico Sur Birding and Nature, and government officials of the Ministerio de Economia, Fomento y reconstrucción, Republica de Chile for granting permission to work on Isla Noir. We thank the crew and staff of the M/S Nordnorge for close approaches to Terhalten. Our gratitude is also expressed to Clinton Nagy, Edward Maruska, and Greg Hanson for their continued support and participation in this project.