It is during this time of the year that Galapagos penguin courtship displays are in full swing over at Bartolome Island, specifically. Monogamous by nature, Galapagos penguins (a prestigious member of our BIG15 group of iconic species) are tremendously devoted to their mate. They are special in two senses of the word: on one side they are the only penguins found north of the equator; on the other, they are hugely devoted to the upbringing of their baby penguins as a team. It’s an endearing experience to watch Galapagos penguin courtship displays, as it is then that we as guests in the Galapagos manage to glimpse the powerful forces of attraction that are constantly at work in the archipelago.
Galapagos penguin courtship displays lead to monogamous bonds, which means they only happen once. Couples are hugely affectionate and will preen each other and often hug or tap each other on the back with their fins or even go so far as to tap their beaks together, almost like giving each other Eskimo kisses. All of this is done to reinforce the bond they have as a couple.
But the occurrence of their courtship depends not only on sexual attraction but on the environment as well. Galapagos penguins are what are known as opportunistic breeders, which means that they will take advantage of the times and moments that are specifically abundant in food (typically during periods of pronounced upwelling). Should times get rough and scarce in terms of food, the Galapagos penguin will simply wait around and, fortunately for them, won’t have to waste any extra time or energy on having to find and court a mate (as they are monogamous for life). Quickly being able to breed whenever they please and circumstances allow is a huge bonus for these creatures.
Should times be optimal, beings will produce an average of two eggs. The incubation process is shared between the male and the female for a period of around 40 days. The couples usually have a habit of using cracks and depressions in lava rock to help protect their eggs from the harsh Galapagos sun and overheating. Once their babies hatch, the chicks will quickly develop plumage to help protect their sensitive skin from the sun, usually a month after hatching. Galapagos penguins also share the task of bringing food to the chick throughout this period.
The sounds they make are more similar to a donkey than an actual bird and make said sounds to either identify their mate or offspring.
Because the archipelago is a protected area, reaching islands where you can spot the Galapagos penguins can add up your Galapagos tour. However, the majority of Galapagos penguins tend to congregate in islands such as Bartolome, Fernandina, and Isabela, all of them available in our itineraries! Keep in mind that they still frequent other islands such as Santiago, Floreana, Isabela, and northern Santa Cruz Island as well, but in much smaller numbers and much more rarely.
They’re incredibly fast compared to the slow waddle that guests often get to witness on the shores of the aforementioned islands. So if you’re snorkeling, be prepared to be humbled by how fast they can be in the water, and how curious they are of visitors!