Barely half a square mile (1km²) in size, tiny Isla Magdalena in the stormy seas of the Strait of Magellan may not seem particularly significant.
But it’s in fact the location of Chile’s most important Magellanic penguin colony and also one of the best rookeries in Patagonia for getting a close view of this species, thanks to a small path that winds between their burrows. It’s also easily accessible from nearby Punta Arenas making a visit here an excellent addition to a trip to Patagonia.
Why is the penguin colony on Isla Magdalena so significant?
With an estimated 120,000 nesting Magellanic penguins residing on the island, Isla Magdalena is an important breeding ground. As such, in 1982 Isla Magdalena and nearby Isla Marta were declared a national monument or Monumento Natural Los Pingüinos. This title aimed to recognize how these small yet noteworthy islands should be the site of conservation efforts to protect both the penguins and the other seabirds, such as cormorants and gulls, that are resident here.
In 1998, a long-term monitoring program was established on Isla Magdalena. It sought to conduct regular and accurate measurements of the population size of the rookery and to observe the impact of tourism upon the island, particularly as visitor numbers have begun to reach thousands annually.
Luckily, the research has indicated that the population of Magellanic penguins is growing, despite the increase of visitors onto the island. Scientists have noted that the penguins have even established smaller rookeries on other islands, such as nearby Contramaestre, demonstrating that the colony is healthy and leaving authorities optimistic about the impact of future conservation efforts.
Typical behavior of the Magellanic penguins on Isla Magdalena
Each year, the penguins return to their burrows on Isla Magdalena, where the females will lay two eggs in October. The males and females take it in turns to incubate and care for the chicks when they hatch in December and they also share the responsibility for hunting for fish in the waters surrounding the island.
Interaction with humans
The penguins on Isla Magdalena are surprisingly fearless of humans, although as a way of protecting the species, visitors must stick to the designated walkway. That said, this colony is an ideal spot for photographers or keen nature lovers hoping for a close-up shot with a friendly penguin.
Visiting Isla Magdalena
As one of Patagonia’s more accessible Magellanic penguin rookeries, Isla Magdalena makes a perfect location for a day-trip. If you’re hoping to visit, here are some useful planning tips.
- Isla Magdalena is located at the heart of the Strait of Magellan, around two hours and 22-miles (35km) from Punta Arenas, the largest city in the Magellanes Region of Chile.
- It is only accessible by small boat or Zodiac excursion from larger cruise ships.
- The cost of landing upon the island is $5 USD ($3.000 CLP).
- The colony is only based here between September and March. In January, it is at its largest, while in early February you’ll see the spectacle of now fully-grown, very fluffy chicks waiting for their adult feathers to appear.
- While the penguin colony is the main attraction, the iconic lighthouse that also stands on Isla Magdalena also forms part of a tour to the island. Built in 1902, it currently houses the CONAF park ranger who administers the region, as well as providing information about the penguins and the area in general.