Gentoo penguins are charming creatures that live on the Antarctic Peninsula as well as numerous sub-Antarctic islands. Only about 13% of the global population lives south of the Antarctic icepack, and around 40% live on the Falkland Islands. They prefer to live and nest in areas with little or no ice, such as coastal plains and cliffs.
At 30 inches tall and weighing around 12 pounds, Gentoo penguins are the third-largest penguin species in the world. And while they’re quite clumsy on land, they are very good in the water. Gentoos are the world’s fastest underwater birds, capable of reaching speeds of up to 22 mph. Adults spend almost all of the day hunting, sometimes going more than 15 miles out from the shore to catch fish, squid and krill. During a single day, they might dive as many as 450 times. They can stay submerged for up to seven minutes and reach depths of 655 feet.
When it’s time to breed, Gentoo penguins gather in colonies that range from a few dozen to many thousands of breeding pairs. The normally monogamous parents build a circular nest out of stones, feathers and grass. The stones are highly prized, and adults sometimes fight over them. Males also give stones to eligible females in an attempt to woo them. They also attract females by turning their heads to the sky and making a trumpeting sound.
The female Gentoo lays two eggs, which the parents take turns to incubate. The egg hatches after about 35 days, and the chick stays in the nest for another 30 days. The chick then joins a crèche for protection and warmth, allowing the parents to go off to hunt. After a month in the crèche, the chick has grown its feathers and is ready to head out to sea with the rest of the colony.