Chinstrap penguins are the most abundant penguin species in the Antarctic. They’re also easy to recognize thanks to the distinctive black band of feathers that runs from one cheek to the other under the chin, giving it the appearance of a helmet’s chinstrap.
Chinstraps are found throughout much of the Antarctic Peninsula and several Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands. They spend the winter on icebergs in warmer waters and on land to the north of their breeding colonies. When it’s time to breed, they return to their nesting sites in late October or early November. The largest colonies are found on the rocky and largely ice-free coasts of the Antarctic continent and the coasts of the South Sandwich and South Shetland Islands.
The colonies are an amazing sight, sometimes with hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs. Here, the males construct circular nests made of stones, tucked up on steep, rocky slopes. The females lay two eggs, which are cared for by both parents. The chicks hatch after about 35 days and then stay in the nest for up to a month. Then it’s time for them to join the colony crèche, where they are kept safe and warm while their parents go foraging.
Chinstrap penguins feed primarily on shrimp-like krill, which make up around 95% of their diet. They can dive to 330 feet in search of prey, although typically hunt at around half that depth. It can be dangerous, however, as leopard seals hunt the chinstraps while they are in the water. And when they are on land, the adults have to defend their eggs and chicks from predatory seabirds such as skuas and sheathbills. But potential predators don’t normally have an easy time. Chinstrap penguins are considered the most aggressive of all penguin species, and don’t give up without a fight.