Rockhopper Penguin – Photo: Unknown

Latin name: Eudyptes chrysocome

Population: 3.7 million pairs

Conservation Status: Vulnerable (IUCN, 2009)

Length: 45-55 cm

Weight: 2 to 3.8 kg

Mating/Breeding: The preferred nesting sites are steep rocky gullies, above approaches into deep water. The breeding cycle begins in early October, with males arriving at the breeding site a few days earlier than the females. Copulation begins as soon as the females arrive, and egg-laying takes place in early November. Two eggs are laid 4-5 days apart, with the first egg hatching after the second. The first egg, at around 80g, is considerably smaller than the second egg of around 110g. This strategy aims to rear just one healthy chick under a wide range of circumstances. The second egg is generally brooded at the rear, where the temperature is more stable, and where it is less prone to being lost or stolen.

Incubation of the eggs takes around 33 days, and is divided into three roughly equal shifts. During the first shift both parents are in attendance. The male then goes to sea to feed while the female takes the second shift, and he returns to relieve the female for the third shift. The male remains on the nest until the eggs hatch, and continues to brood for the first 25 days, while the female brings food for the chicks.

Feed on: Rockhoppers have a mixed diet of krill, with a complement of fish and squid.

Threats: Population has decreased by 24% in the past 30 years. Rockhoppers are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, human disturbance and various types of pollution, as well as starvation due to commercial fishing of squid.

Colour/Looks: Rockhoppers are the smallest species among the crested penguins. They can be identified by the outline of their crest: they only have a small yellow line that starts at the bill and runs to the back of the head, where it extends in a long and wide crest. They have bright red eyes, in contrast with the other crested penguins, which all have darker eyes.

Rockhopper Penguin Habitat

Where found: Rockhoppers breed on almost every sub-Antarctic island.

Interesting Trivia:

  • World-wide there are 3 subspecies of Rockhopper penguins: Southern (Eudyptes chrysocome), Eastern (Eudyptes (chrysocomefilholi) and Northern (Eudyptes moseleyi).
  • The Rockhopper likes to climb cliffs and to hop from rock to rock (that explains his name).
  • The cover of the Fleetwood Mac album Penguin features a Rockhopper. The penguin subsequently became Fleetwood Mac’s mascot.
  • Rockhoppers are loud, noisy, and feisty birds. They are quick to attack anyone or anything that bothers them.

More info:

Hadoram Shirihai, A complete guide to Antarctic wildlife (2002)

David McGonigal & Lynn Woodworth, Antarctica and the Arctic. The complete encyclopedia (2001)