Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Rockhopper Penguin

Eudyptes chrysocome
rockhopper penguin

By Devon Phelan

  • Classification
Kingdom Animalia (animals)
Eumetazoa (metazoans)
Bilateria (bilaterally symmetrical animals)
Deuterostomia (deuterostomes)
Phylum Chordata (chordates)
Craniata (craniates)
Subphylum Vertebrata (vertebrates)
Superclass Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates)
Euteleostomi (bony vertebrates)
Class Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fishes and terrestrial vertebrates)
Tetrapoda (tetrapods)
Amniota (amniotes)
Class Reptilia
Class Aves (birds)
Subclass Neognathae (neognath birds)
Infraclass Neoaves (modern birds)
Order Sphenisciformes (penguins)
Family Spheniscidae (penguins)
Genus Eudyptes (rockhopper, macaroni, and related penguins)
Species Eudyptes chrysocome (rockhopper penguin)
Subspecies Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome
Subspecies Eudyptes chrysocome filholi
Subspecies Eudyptes chrysocome moseleyi

Geographic Range

Rockhopper penguins are found on islands in the southern ocean, such as the Falkland Islands. They occur farther north than many other penguin species.
Biogeographic Regions
neotropical (Native ); atlantic ocean (Native )


Rockhopper penguins are found in high grasses called tussocks, where they make burrows and nest. As their name implies, they live on rocky shorelines.

Habitat Regions
temperate ; terrestrial ; saltwater or marine

Terrestrial Biomes
savanna or grassland

Aquatic Biomes

Physical Description

Range mass
2000 to 3000 g
(70.48 to 105.73 oz)

Average length
55 cm
(21.65 in)

Rockhopper penguins measure about 55 centimeters in length and weigh around 2.5 kilograms. These birds stand upright on two short feet. Their legs are set far back on the body. The waterproof coat, composed of feathers that average 2.9 centimeters in length, is white on the underside and bluish-black on the top. The head has bright yellow plumage on the brow; the yellow feathers extend along the sides. The top of the head has spiked black feathers. The wings are strong, stiff, narrow and flipper-like. Rockhopper penguins have tiny eyes.

Other Physical Features
endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism
sexes alike


Mating calls, which are species specific, are called "ecstatic vocalization." This draws attention to the bird and announces its intentions. Penguins mate with the same partners from previous years. (Williams, 1981)

Mating System
Breeding interval
Rockhopper penguins breed once yearly.

Range eggs per season
1 to 2

Rockhopper penguins typically mate in the early spring or late summer, enabling the young to go to the sea in the mid-summer. They mate in vast colonies and lay up to two eggs, although sometimes pairs "adopt" a third egg. The first egg is usually 20-50% smaller than second one. The small egg is usually lost, although it is capable of maturing into a normal bird. Adopted eggs are also typically lost. After each egg is laid, it is turned over to the male who sits on it and keeps it in his brood pouch for the next four months until it hatches. (Williams, 1981)
Key Reproductive Features
seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
While the male penguin sits on the incubating egg, he is nourished by the female, or else he fasts for the entire period. If the female does not return with food for the chick once it has hatched, the male produces "penguin's milk" from his digestive system and regurgitates it for the baby.
Parental Investment
precocial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male)


Average lifespan
Status: wild

10 years

The average lifespan of a rockhopper penguin is 10 years.


Penguins are very sociable animals. It is very rare to see one alone. Rockhopper penguins are the most aggressive, as well as the most numerous, penguins. They hide their heads under their wing while they rest. Rockhopper penguins leave the breeding colony in late summer or fall and spend 3-5 months at sea, where they find food. Penguin wings are used exclusively for swimming, these sea birds do not fly.
Key Behaviors
natatorial ; diurnal ; territorial ; social ; colonial 

Communication and Perception

Their loud cry, "ecstatic vocalization", is used to announce their presence, attract a mate, or announce the boundaries of their territory. As well as vocalizing, these birds shake their heads and cause their yellow eyebrows to fly into a "halo" in order to attract a mate.
Communication Channels
visual ; acoustic

Food Habits

Rockhopper penguins eat primarily krill (Euphausiacea). They also eat squid and other crustaceans. They make daily trips to the sea to forage.
Primary Diet
carnivore (Eats non-insect arthropods)
Animal Foods
fish; aquatic crustaceans

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Penguins are a tourist attraction, and they are one of the main reasons people travel to the Falkland Islands and other habitats of these penguins.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [Link]

More Information
CITES [Link]

No special status
It is estimated that rockhopper penguins have undergone a decline of more than 30% in their total population size over the past 30 years. For this reason, they are classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. If the decline continues, they may be uplisted to endangered in the near future. Threats to rockhopper penguin populations include commercial fishing, which reduces the amount of available prey, and oil spills. (Bingham, 2002; BirdLife International, 2004; Ryan and Cooper, 1991)

Other Comments

Rockhopper penguins keep warm by their well-developed fat layer and system for maintaining heat.


Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.
Devon Phelan (author), University of Michigan.


Gorman, James. 1990. The Total Penguin. Prentice Hall Press, NY.

Grzimek, Dr.Dr.h.c. Bernhard. 1972. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. p.133-134. Van Norstrand Reinhold Co. NY.

New Scientist. "Did Warm Water Kill Falkland Penguins?" IPC Magazine Ltd. Vol. 114. May 28, 1987. p.22.

Bingham, M. 2002. The decline of Falkland Islands penguins in the presence of a commercial fishing industry. Revista Chilena de Historia Natural, 75(4): 805-818.

BirdLife International, 2004. "Eudyptes chrysocome" (On-line). 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed November 14, 2005 at

Ryan, P., J. Cooper. 1991. Rockhopper penguins and other marine life threatened by drift net fisheries at Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean. Oryx, 25(2): 76-79.

Williams, A. 1981. The clutch size of macaroni penguins Eudyptes chrysolophus and rockhopper penguins Eudyptes chrysocome. Emu, 81(2): 87. 

To cite this page: Phelan, D. 1999. "Eudyptes chrysocome" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed May 16, 2012 at

No comments: