Macaroni penguins are funny looking things, mainly due to the conspicuous orange and yellow crests that protrude from the center of their foreheads. They also have bulbous bills that add to their slightly comical appearance. Then, of course, there’s the peculiar name, which doesn’t refer to pasta tubes. The name comes from a flamboyant style of dress that arose in Europe during the 18th century, which was known informally as macaroni (the same word, with the same meaning, appears in the song “Yankee Doodle”).
Macaroni penguins are found on the Antarctic Peninsula and Antarctic and sub-Antarctic islands. They gather in vast colonies during the breeding season, sometimes with as many as 100,000 individuals, all densely packed together. Here they make nests out of small stones along the rocky coasts. The female macaroni typically lays two eggs, but discards the first, smaller egg after laying the larger second egg. The parents then take 12-day turns looking after the egg while the other goes hunting for krill, squid and fish.
The eggs hatch after about 35 days, and the chicks soon join the colony’s crèche, where they are kept warm until the colony returns to the sea about two months later. The adults, meanwhile, have to remain alert. The eggs and chicks are vulnerable to predatory seabirds like skuas and petrels. And when the adults going hunting in the sea, they have to watch out for seals and killer whales.
Despite being communal creatures, tensions in the colonies run high at times. Male macaroni penguins can be quite aggressive towards other males, and fights are not uncommon. When they fight, the males slap each other with their flippers and lock beaks until one of them backs down. To avoid provoking fights in the colony, the penguins often walk around with their heads bowed down to their chests, waddling about in a sheepish manner.