Who knew? There really are penguins that call the equator home - or more exactly the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador.
The Galapagos Penguins arrived to the islands via the Humboldt Current. The Humboldt Current flows north from Antarctica bringing with it cold waters rich with nutrients that the penguins depend on. Galapagos Penguins eat mostly small fish such a mullet, sardines, and crustaceans caught on shallow pursuit dives.
Galapagos Penguins are a petite 14-18 inches tall and weigh around five pounds. They are the third smallest penguin species and sadly are considered endangered with roughly only a couple thousand now living. They are black and white with a thin white band running from their eyes to under their chin and a black upside down horseshoe shape around their belly.
They are social little birds living in colonies and they actually mate for life. They communicate with a series of vocal calls and sounds as well as an array of body movements. Their courting ritual involves mutual preening, flipper slapping and bill crossing. A mated pair share in the nest building duty in caves or volcanically-formed cavities under the lava as well as the care of their young. They use all manner of material for their nest building and are not above stealing building materials from other unguarded nests.
Nesting occurs on Fernandina and Isabela islands usually between May and July but climatic changes can be unpredictable. With favorable conditions breeding can happen any time of the year. Incubation lasts 38-42 days, the chicks fledge (grow feathers) at about 60 days and are fully independent within three to six months.
The female Galapagos Penguin reaches sexual maturity about three to four years later-the male must wait four to six years to reach that point. They can live 15 to 20 years but the odds are against that happening.
On land they can fall prey to hawks and owls as well as feral dogs and cats. The chicks are fair game for snakes, crabs and rats. In the ocean searching for food, adult penguins are on the preferred menu for sharks as well as other large marine animals such as sea lions. As if that isn't enough trouble, their food supply can be severely reduced by climatic events such as El NiÃ±o and they face death by disease and starvation.
Additional threats to the Galapagos penguin and many other animals living on the islands come from increased disturbances by tourists (tourism is strictly controlled by the Galapagos National Park and the government of Ecuador to help ease the burden that tourists put on the ecosystem), fishing and pollution including oil spills.