We visited the Penguin Reserve at Isla Magdalena near Punta Arenas, Chile
Punta Arenas Travel Blog› entry 10 of 13 › view all entries
Our ship docked at Punta Arenas, Chile and passengers disembarked for a wide variety of tours - some choosing to fly to a neighbouring continent - Antarctica - others into the interior of Patagonia. We had not yet seen penguins in their breeding grounds so the tour we chose involved taking a short boat trip to Isla Magdelena a protected breeding area for Magellenic Penguins. These flightless birds are smaller and less colourful than the Emperor Penguins whose nesting sites are farther south in Antarctica but they are excellent swimmers and migrate thousands of kilometres north to the tropical waters of Brazil. In the fall of each year, however, they feel the pull that is programmed into their species, to return to the site of their birth to give birth to a new generation in order to perpetuate their kind.
The Magellenic penguins scrape out a nest in the sandy soil of their native islands and lay one or two eggs in the depression. Through the winter, both parents incubate the eggs and collect food to feed the hatchlings. Once their down coats have been replaced with feathers, the young penguins take to the water first and begin the long swim to the tropics. Their parents , on the other hand, must go through a molt to replace last years feathers. To help the process along, the adult birds pick out their old feathers leaving patcheof pink, bare skin - they definitely look a bit ragged and ugly - when they are fully-fledged and protected from the bitterly cold waters of the South Atlantic, they hurl themselves in the water and pursue their offspring to the tropics. Our tour was fortunate that there were still almost 100,000 adult penguins on the islands. In another week, the molt would have been completely over and there would have been nothing to see but barren sand.