The Sub Antarctic Rockhopper Penguin

Sub Antarctic Rockhopper Penguin standing on rocks at Macquarie Island

Rockhopper penguins would have to be one of my favourite penguins. With their bright red eyes, punk hair-do, and feisty nature, they are a cut above the rest. From a distance they can be mistaken for a Royal Penguin as the beak and golden crest are very similar, however up close Rockhopper penguins are unmistakable with their black punk crest, bright red eyes and they are overall smaller than the Royal Penguin.

This photo was taken at Macquarie Island – Sub Antarctica, where there are a number of colonies of these “decorative” penguins. They are definitely a favorite amongst the tourists and photographers who travel to Antarctica and Sub Antarctica, however the utmost care is always taken to ensure that they are not disturbed and that their habitat stays intact.

True to their name, Rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes filholi) choose to breed amongst rocks on rocky ground, scree slopes, rocky shores and lava flows close to the sea. The approach to the colonies is very often through heavy surf and involves leaping out on to exposed rocks, hence the name “Rockhoppers”.

Rockhopper penguins return to the breeding grounds from October, when the males claim the same site as the previous year. The nest will consist of small stones, possibly decorated with a bit of grass or bleached bones. A normal clutch is of 2 eggs, one being smaller than the other.

Rockhopper penguin parents share the 34 days of incubation, but almost invariably the smaller egg fails to hatch. At first the male guards the chick while the female goes fishing, then after 3 weeks the chick joins a creche from which time both parents bring back it’s krill soup.

The Rockhopper penguin chick reaches adult weight and fledges at about 10 weeks when it goes to sea in February/March. The adults precede it to sea to fatten up then return to the colony to moult before returning to sea in April/May for the winter.

So be sure when you take a cruise to Sub Antarctica that you include a photo or at least a viewing of these awesome penguins, but remember always keep your distance and respect their environment, this is where a good telephoto lens and a steady hand are essential.

You can check out heaps more photos of Rockhopper and other penguins here at Henry’s Antarctica Photo Gallery.

(info from Tony Soper – Antarctica a guide to the wildlife)

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