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Humboldt Penguin Research Project
ISLOTE PÁJARO NIÑO - Algarrobo, Chile

Humboldt penguin

Since the early 1990’s, the Milwaukee County Zoo (MCZ) has been conducting research on a Humboldt penguin population at Islote Pájaro Niño, a small island near Algarrobo, Chile. The goal of research is to find ways to help the wild Humboldt penguin population survive. Humboldt penguins are considered to be a vulnerable species, meaning the wild population is at risk for extinction. Research has shown a very low rate of chick survivability due to many factors including:

  • El Niño events that disrupt the food supply and also cause heavy rains that destroy penguin nests
  • Predators like cats, dogs and rats that have been introduced to islands threaten areas where the penguins live and breed
  • Trampling of nests by other seabirds including pelicans
  • Accidental drowning in fishing nets
  • Poaching and habitat disruption by man

Our Zoo staff travels to Islote Pájaro Niño and works with Chilean biologists to study the Humboldt penguins’ natural environment, breeding cycles, and threats to their survival. In 2009, our team installed 35 artificial nesting burrows made of plastic barrels – durable burrows that would not be washed away by heavy rains, or easily trampled – with the hopes of increasing chick survivability. Continued research has shown a few breeding pairs of penguins have used these artificial burrows for nesting, resulting in surviving chicks.

The short video below shows Milwaukee County Zoo staff and our Chilean colleagues collecting Humboldt penguin data at Islote Pájaro Niño. Watch as the researchers measure, weigh and identify chicks for future study. Notice that the researchers are very careful when handling chicks and returning them to their burrows.

If you'd like to support this important project, please donate through our nonprofit partner organization, the Zoological Society of Milwaukee. Donations will help support supplies, stipends for Chilean field researchers, census counts, satellite transmitters to study where and how the penguins travel, and educational materials for the Chilean public.

Additional information about this Humboldt penguin research project can be found here.