Where to See Penguins in South America

Galapagos

The little Galapagos Penguins can only be found on and around the Galapagos Islands themselves – breeding generally on the islands of Fernandina and Isabella. These are the most northerly of all penguins. Swimming in the Galapagos you might see one dart past you in the water – the only place you are likely to want to swim with penguins without a wetsuit! Galapagos Penguins don’t leave the islands so can be seen there at any time of year.

Humbolt

Peru’s coast is a bit chilly for swimming, but it suits the Humbolt Penguins just fine. These creatures thrive in the cold, nutrient rich Humbolt current flowing along the southern coast of Peru and into the far north of Chile. The best place to see Humbolt Penguins year-round is the Ballestas Islands south of Lima. Paracas National Park where the islands are located is home to comorants, pelicans, boobies as well as a lot of guano. Good news for Humbolt Penguins, who love burrowing in the stuff!

Magellanic

On a visit to Patagonia, it is the Magellanic Penguins that you are most likely to see. They are migratory birds but can best be seen in colonies in Punto Tombo, Argentina; Morillo Island in the Beagle Channel, Ushuaia; and Magdalena Island near Punta Arenas, Chile. The largest colony of Magellanic penguins in the world is at Punto Tombo where, in season, you can walk amongst half a million of them!

Penguins spend September to April in Patagonia with babies born in November. Then, the waiting game begins as the parents take it in turn to feed their chicks, as their fluffy feathers to change to smooth black and white, and for the babies to take to the water. Once the babies have learnt to swim, they are off to warmer water in Brazil or perhaps Peru.

King Penguins

At 90cm tall, King Penguins are second only to Emperors in size. They are somehow the smartest looking penguins, looking like they ought to be carrying a silver tray and waiting at table. King Penguins can be found looking dapper on sub-Antarctic islands such as the Falklands and South Georgia Islands.

Emperor

The largest penguins of all, Emperor Penguins have become superstars after the beautiful movie, the March of the Penguins, shows the incredible touching story of cooperation between male and female Emperor Penguins protecting and feeding their offspring. The odd stray Emperor has been seen in the Beagle Channel off Ushuaia, but to be sure to see these large penguins in their natural habitat, you really need to take cruise to Antarctica.

America’s #1 Spectator Sport – Bird Watching

What is the fastest growing outdoor family activity in the U.S.? It might just surprise you. Then again, maybe not. Not if your one of the more than 75 million Americans who already enjoys feeding and watching birds. CBS News recently dubbed bird watching as #1 spectator sport in America, attracting more people than NASCAR and all professional sports combined. Backyard bird feeding has always run a close race with gardening for the number one spot for family enjoyment, but both are at the top of the list. Birding in the 1990s experienced a growth rate of 150% followed by hiking at 84%. Other popular activities, such as golfing, grew by just 29%, where as fishing and hunting grew at a rate of less than 10%. And the interest in bird watching continues to grow. A 1997 article in Newsweek Magazine reported that bird watching would grow faster than the national population over the next 50 years.

But what is it that makes feeding birds and watching birds so popular? For one, they are the most visible of all our wildlife. Birds live among humans comfortably, singing, nesting, and fluttering past our windows and through our backyards. They provide a great natural insect control for our gardens. There is a huge diversity in the number of species and it changes with the seasons. In Nebraska alone roughly 450 species of birds have been identified. And birds are a source of great wonderment. From the intricacies of weaving a nest with only a beak as a tool, to locating enough food to feed a half dozen hungry mouths, birds are extremely resourceful. And as seasons change, their ability to migrate from less than a few hundred miles to thousands of miles and return to the same proximity boggles the mind. Biologists believe that birds use a variety of senses when migrating from their ability to detect magnetic fields, to using stars and terrestrial land marks to find their way. Consider the Arctic Tern whose annual migration covers roughly 25,000 miles. Adult birds then pass this information on to their young and it becomes a learned process.

However, for many people it is not so much about contemplating the complexity of the lives of birds that intrigues them. It is more simply about the beauty of their colorful displays, the relaxation of their serenades, and watching them rearing families right outside our windows. They become our backyard friends as we supply supplemental foods, and fresh water for them to drink and bathe in. We create backyard habitats, offering birds a place to nest and provide them with cover from inclement weather and hungry predators. Feeding birds and watching birds helps to create more awareness of the environment around us, and, not only how we can make that environment more sustainable for birds, but for ourselves as well. For information on backyard bird feeding and where to go to watch birds in Nebraska contact the Wild Bird Habitat Store, backyard birding headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska since 1993. Supporting Healthy Families Play Outside and the conservation of the rich birding heritage in Nebraska, working with the Nebraska Partnership For ALL Bird Conservation So feed the birds! It makes a world of difference.

Vampire Bat Feeding

Among all the mammals that wander the earth, save the few human cannibals, there is only one that feeds only on blood. No not vampires but the vampire bat. A mammal found in Southern Mexico and South America that has existed long before the myths of Dracula and vampires.

A special creature, they have their own unique hunting style that does not rely on echo location like most bats for their targets are not insects but rather full size livestock, mammals and birds. Even humans have had been victims of the vampire bat. Fortunately, these attacks are uncommon and only a result of people destroying and moving into the bat’s natural habitat.

To feed, the vampires leave their home at night and travel the skies looking for prey. Upon finding it they swoop down to the ground. Thermal sensors in their flat noses find the the juiciest blood vessels on their target victim. Razor like fangs lacking Enamel painlessly pierce the sleeping victim’s flesh and trigger the blood flow. Even humans bitten by a vampire while sleeping would not notice. The bat saliva used in the bite has enzymes that prevent blood from clotting and thus lets them drink their fill, which can be up to half their body weight. Yet contrary to vampire legend when the bats feed they actually lap up the blood using grooves in their tongue to steer the blood into their bodies. There is no blood sucking involved. After their 20 – 30 minute meal and drinking a couple teaspoons of blood, the bloated bats urinate to lighten their load. A bloated bat cannot fly.

Upon returning home to their roost, the vampires begin grooming each other, which also enables those who failed to feed to receive a regurgitated meal from their kin. Two or three days without food and the poor little bat will die, making this method of interaction vital to a colony’s survival.

All three species of vampire bats have their own unique method for approaching their prey, but they all feed the same way. So the next time you find yourself in South America, keep the windows shut and the mosquito net up lest you fall prey to a vampire bat’s hunger, unlikely though it may be.