Humboldt penguin

Spheniscus humboldti

Humboldt penguins live off the coasts of Peru and Chile. They are one of 17 penguin species in the world. Their population is estimated at 12,000 breeding pairs.

Did you know?

  • The penguin is named after the Humboldt Current, an oceanic current along the west coast of South America. The current is named for Alexander von Humboldt, a naturalist and explorer.
  • Most birds have hollow bones. Humboldts have solid bones that act as ballast (weight) to help them dive.
  • Humboldts have backward-facing spines in their mouths to hold fish they catch.

Penguin lingo

  • Catastrophic moulting: all feathers are shed at once. Feathers wear down and become less effective over time, so each year they are replaced.
  • Guano: penguin (or seabirds in general) dung or droppings; it's valuable to humans as fertilizer, but critical to penguins as they use it to build nests to raise their young.

Penguin behavior and facts

  • In the wild, penguins eat squid, crustaceans and fish such as smelt, sardines and anchovies.
  • They can dive as deep as 500 feet.
  • Humboldts sometimes lay eggs in nests burrowed out of the thick guano covering rocky cliffs.
  • They can swim up to 30 miles per hour. Their wings act like flippers, an adaptation that helps them "fly" through water.
  • Their feet are also adapted to their sea and land habitats: they're webbed so they can serve as a rudder, steering through the water and at the end of each foot are claws, for climbing out of the water onto rocks.
  • They have two feather layers: the top layer repels wind and water and the bottom layer is downy, for warmth.

From birth to death

  • Humboldt penguins breed year-round.
  • They build nests in caves, in guano or under overhangs and lay 1 to 3 eggs.
  • Eggs incubate 40 days.
  • Young penguins eat food regurgitated from their parents.
  • Young penguins begin to swim at 3 months.

Vital statistics

  • Height: 15 to 18 inches tall when standing
  • Weight: 9 pounds as adults


Of the 17 penguin species, Humboldts are among the most threatened due to:

  • overfishing of their prey species
  • entanglement in fishing nets
  • removal of guano for commercial purposes

They are listed as CITES App I. The zoo participates in a Species Survival Plan to cooperatively manage Humboldt populations. In 2010, Humboldt penguins were granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Penguins, the Oregon Zoo and you

The Oregon Zoo has one of the largest collections of Humboldts in the United States, housed in the Penguinarium exhibit.

In the zoo, they eat smelt or herring injected with vitamins. You can help Humboldts in the wild by choosing sustainably harvested fish, which helps ensure the fish penguins rely on are not depleted.

Invest in the Nest!

Like Humboldt penguins, African penguins also rely on guano to build their nests. And like Humboldts, African penguins are facing dire threats because of the removal of that guano by humans. Oregon Zoo has partnered with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Kickstarter to raise awareness and funds to provide artificial nest boxes to thousands of penguins in South Africa. You can help by contributing through June 15, 2017 - even a small amount will help - and you can even snag some exclusive penguin rewards, like paintings made by Oregon Zoo's own Humboldt penguins!