Linux Penguin drawn by Larry Ewing
The F-Wit Page
A site devoted to all things F-Witted.

Who is F-Wit?
F-Wit is a Magellanic penguin who lives on Magdalena Island, near the city of Punta Arenas in southern Chile. I have adopted him.
Why call a penguin F-Wit?
Well, it's a long story, born of a long and drunken night when I basically declared I'd love to have a pet penguin and call him "F**kwit".
It's illegal to call penguins by rude names so we compromised with F-Wit.
How come they let you adopt a penguin?
You're obviously not a responsible adult!

It's a fair cop. The penguin monitoring people weren't to know.
F-Wit was a 31st birthday present from my good friends Jimmy and Si.
I intend to take my new responsibilities very seriously and I'm very proud of the wee man.

First up, here's the lad himself, happily esconced in his own little piece of heaven.
Him and the missus have got a couple of eggs on the go at the moment so it's not surprising F-Wit's in - Mrs F-W is almost certainly out having it large and getting some fish in because this is how yer average Magellanic penguin couple sort their domestic life.
And here's Chez F-Wit - pretty impressive, I'm sure you'll agree.
Well, perhaps not.
If you were a penguin you would.

The stick outside his burrow says he's been named F-Wit and adopted by me.
I imagine they're very sought after.

F-Wit News
Below I've reproduced some of the information that Dr Mike Bingham (who runs the penguin adoption programme at sent me.
You can adopt your own penguin, read about how things really haven't been going so well for F-Wit and his mates lately, not to mention find out all kinds of penguin facts.

I'll be updating this page with news and pictures of F-Wit and his (hopefully) amazing adventures as and when I hear about them.
In the meantime if you have a message for F-Wit, or if you've adopted a penguin too then contact us by clicking here and perhaps we can form some kind of international community of penguin adopters/adoptees that could work towards world peace, fight crime and maybe meet up for dinner parties or something.
Hey, there's an idea, and we could all dress up as penguins, too! How cool would that be?!

11th November 2004 - Scandal!
A thought struck me yesterday as to how Dr Mike and his crew could tell that F-Wit really was F-Wit.
After all, the boy's out at sea with the other penguins for months on end, tossed and thrown by the cruel ocean, never knowing where his next meal's coming from... Sob! Don't get me started! He'd be better off at home, I know. But you've got to let go sometimes, haven't you? Have to give them their freedom, even when you know you're exposing a naive young penguin to a cynical, dangerous world...

So I emailed Dr Mike to ask how they can recognise F-Wit when he returns (assuming it was some kind of radio-collar or satellite monitoring or something)...
But - shock, horror! - Dr Mike was just a teeny little bit evasive about the whole ID process. He's a busy man, as we all know, but imagine my feelings when I received this message -

Dear Stuart,
As far as we are able to tell it is the same penguin.

"As far as we are able to tell"???? And these are the professionals! So it could be any old penguin!
I shall never sleep soundly again! How can I, knowing that it might not be F-Wit that I'm supporting, but rather some jumped-up, usurping...cuckoo!?!
Oh, tis a dagger pressed to my beating heart, I can tell you.

10th November 2004 - It's been a while...
Yes, I do apologise, but one year is very like another when you're a penguin in the South Atlantic so I'm ashamed to admit that I didn't bother with the previous update from Dr Mike (and to be honest, it did seem suspiciously like it was cut'n'pasted from the year before...)
However, since F-Wit got a mention in the Guardian by my very nice previous boss (albeit a small one, and not actually by name - see the "5 Favourite Websites" bit) I felt we should probably update the F-Wit page.

So here we see F-Wit in 2004, fresh out of the South Atlantic and getting settled for the winter once more.
Well, summer, I suppose it is down there.
Is it me or does the wee fellah look a little bit older? A little bit wiser? Even, perhaps, a little bit sadder?
Life has worn him down, taken its toll - smoothing some of those rough feathers, blunting some of that crazed penguin ambition that we saw in those sparkling eyes previously.
"I've seen what you've got," he's saying to the world, "And it's not what I had in mind, but I'll take it anyway."
He's not beaten - far from it - but he's a more mature penguin now, with a few migrations under his belt, and looking forward to a few more, too, I shouldn't wonder!.
And of course, Chez F-Wit!
The lad's done a good job here - you can tell he's not a first-time buyer any more. He's on the property ladder now, and he knows what he's looking for.

3rd October 2003 - Our boy's home, Ma! He's come back to us!
It's just like Ground Force on the Falklands at the moment - Dr Bingham takes up the story:

F-Wit has been seen back in the burrow doing some repair work after the winter has taken its toll. During the long winter months, which are usually accompanied by heavy rains and strong winds, most burrows get damaged and are in need of repair before the penguins can move back into them. Many of the burrows change beyond recognition, with the wind and rain washing away much of the ground.

See, if only Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen was there...
Well, sounds like they need Handy Andy more at the moment but still, he'll be needing LLB to get Chez F-Wit back into shape because...!

Courtship has also begun.

That's my boy! Gettin' straight down to some hot lovin' action!

The males arrive at the colony a few days before the females, and wait for the arrival of last year's partner. Once the pair meet up again they strengthen their relationship by preening each other and undertaking repairs to the burrow. Preening is an important part of their behaviour and it also helps them keep healthy.

But spare a thought for Dr B as...
The first nest inspections of the season are a nightmare. Penguin fleas lie dormant in the nest over the winter until they sense the warmth of the penguin returning to its burrow again in the Spring. By this time the fleas are hungry and looking for a meal. The trouble is that many penguins will not use the exact same burrow, but will make a new burrow alongside the old one, especially if it has become too damaged over the winter.
So when we researchers put our head into each of the burrows to see whether they are occupied, the fleas jump on to us and we get covered in penguin fleas, especially from the unoccupied burrows whose fleas are still hungry. The fleas bite, and I personally can run up a count of over three hundred flea bites during October and November. Very unpleasant.

Shame on you, F-Wit! And sorry, Dr B, I don't know what's come over him, I really don't.
And Dr B says some new pictures should be with us very soon!

11th August 2003 - The boys are back in town!

F-Wit's on his way home, says Dr Bingham...

The long winter migration is nearing its end, and our penguins will now be slowly making their way back to the breeding colony. This year has seen some record distances, with reports of our penguins having travelled as far north as the Bahia region of Brazil, north of Rio de Janeiro (see map).

Since penguins forage by sight at depths of 30 metres or more, good daylight is essential for finding food. This is one of the main reasons for travelling north in winter, to avoid the southern winter where the days are short and gloomy.

Penguins migrate in a much more leisurely manner than other birds. Because penguins swim they average less than 10 kilometres per hour. As such penguins don't really set off and make a straight line northwards when they migrate. They rather forage around in the usual manner looking for food, whilst gradually heading northwards.

During the winter penguins never come ashore. The have everything they need at sea, and are even able to sleep in the ocean.

"Penguins migrate in a much more leisurely manner than other birds...looking for food".
Dude, those dudes are stoned, dude!

30th May 2003 - You don't write, you don't call...
You go out swimming the Atlantic coast of Argentina and Uruguay for months on end, we don't see you, we don't hear from you - for all we know you could dead (sob!).
Well, I can tell you, young man - er, penguin - you're not too old to be put across my knee and spanked. No, my boy.

It's alright for you, spending the southern winter feeding and resting in preparation for next year's breeding season but do you ever think of your poor, bereft sponsor back in the UK?

No, exactly. You didn't think, did you? Yes, I'm sure you are very sorry, very sorry indeed.
I don't care if all the other Magellanic penguins do stay out at sea for months on end at this time of year - if all the other Magellanic penguins jumped off a cliff would you follow them then?

Right, well, now you've finally let us know where on earth you've been and said you're sorry you can get out of my sight. Go on.

And I don't want to hear a peep out of you until October when you come back to the Falklands again to breed, is that clear, my boy?

27th Jan 2003 - some of Dr Mike Bingham's notes about F-Wit and Magellanic Penguins...

(Spheniscus magellanicus)

The Magellanic Penguin is only found around the Falkland Islands and South America, but it is extremely numerous within these regions. The Falkland Islands has a population well in excess of 100,000 breeding pairs, but this is small compared to populations in South America, which number around 1,500,000 breeding pairs. Breeding colonies range from the Golfo San Matías in Argentina, southwards around the islands of Tierra del Fuego, and northwards up the Pacific coast of Chile as far as Coquimbo.

The Magellanic Penguin is around 70cm long, and has an average weight of about 4kg. The head and upper parts are black apart from two broad white stripes beneath the throat; one running up behind the cheeks and above the eye to join the pinkish gape, the second running adjacent to the white underparts with which they merge above the legs. Females are slightly smaller than the males, but have similar plumage.

Penguins of the Genus Spheniscus, to which Magellanic, Humboldt and Galapagos penguins all belong, are much more loosely colonial than other penguins. They generally nest in burrows when soil conditions permit, and are consequently spaced much further apart than surface-nesting penguins. Magellanic Penguin colonies in particular often extend over several kilometres of coastline, at densities ranging from 0.001 to 0.1 nests per sq.m.

Magellanic Penguins are widely distributed throughout the region. They particularly like offshore islands with tussac grass or small shrubs, which are in abundance around the Falkland Islands, Tierra del Fuego and the Pacific coast of Chile. Such islands offer deep layers of soil for burrowing into, and dense vegetation offering protection from aerial predators. The Atlantic coast of Argentina is much drier, and has less vegetation cover, but it is still home to around 650,000 breeding pairs, many of which nest above ground in surface scrapes or under bushes. Magellanic Penguins prefer to nest in burrows, but when soil conditions are unsuitable for burrowing, they will nest on the surface using whatever protection they can find.

Adults arrive at the nest sites to breed in September, and after a period of burrow excavation and repair, begin egg laying around mid October. Two equally sized eggs are laid 4 days apart, each with a weight of around 125g. Incubation takes around 40 days, with the female incubating the eggs for the first shift, while the male feeds at sea. He forages at distances of up to 500km away from the breeding site, before returning to relieve the female some 15 or 20 days later. She then goes to sea for a similar period, and when she returns, the two birds change over at regular intervals until the eggs hatch.

Both parents continue to brood the chicks in turn on a daily basis, for a period of about 30 days. Chicks are fed daily, with adults leaving the colony in early morning, and returning with food later the same day. Magellanic Penguins mostly forage within 40km of the nest site during this period, except in the Falklands where foraging is affected by commercial fishing. Foraging trips become longer as the chicks become larger, and demand more food, and chicks may then have to wait several days between meals.

When the weather is fine larger chicks often sit outside their burrow entrances, but will rapidly return to the safety of their burrows at the first sign of danger. Fledging occurs at 9 to 17 weeks of age, depending on food. Fledglings look similar to the adults, except for being greyer and lacking the clearly defined banding of the adults.

Freedom from parental responsibilities allows the adults to spend a period of time at sea, feeding up in preparation for their annual moult in March. Moulting takes 3 to 4 weeks, after which the adults leave the breeding site, and remain at sea until the following breeding season. Magellanic Penguins can live to about 20 years of age.

Females may begin breeding at 4 years of age, but the males do not normally breed until they are at least 5 years old. This is quite possibly a consequence of there being more males than females, making it easier for inexperienced females to find partners than for inexperienced males. Magellanic penguins generally show strong site and mate fidelity, and pair-bonds are reinforced by allopreening.

Magellanic penguins are opportunistic feeders, taking roughly equal proportions of fish, squid and crustaceans. During chick-rearing, foraging trips are generally conducted on a daily basis during daylight hours, except in the Falklands where food is harder to find. Birds generally forage at depths of less than 50m, but on occasions may dive up to 100m. Winter foraging for prey often takes them way beyond their normal breeding range, with birds travelling as far north as Brazil.

Magellanic Penguins declined severely in the Falkland Islands during the 1980's and 1990's, which coincided with the rise of commercial fishing for squid and finfish. The current Falklands population (2000/01) stands at less than 30% of its 1990/91 level, and this decline is still continuing. These declines have not occurred in nearby Chile.

Comparisons of colonies in the Falklands and Chile appear to confirm that competition with commercial fishing is a major cause of the Falklands decline. Adult penguins in Chile are able to return with food for their chicks on a daily basis, with foraging trips averaging 16 to 18 hours. By contrast adults in the Falkland Islands take approximately 35 hours to find the same amount of food. With only half the amount of food being fed to chicks, lower chick survival rates would be expected, and this is confirmed by research. Over recent years breeding success and chick survival rates have been substantially higher in Chile (average 1.35 chicks per nest) than in the Falklands (average 0.82 chicks per nest). This huge difference in breeding success is sufficient to account for the gradual decline in population, with insufficient chicks being reared in the Falklands to replace natural adult mortality.

An estimated 40,000 Magellanic Penguins are killed by oil pollution every year along the coast of Argentina, representing the main cause of adult mortality in this area. The commencement of oil exploration around the Falkland Islands could mean similar mortality amongst Falkland penguins, unless considerably higher standards to those employed in Argentina are demanded. Unfortunately early indications are not good. During a 5 month period of oil exploration around the Falklands in 1998, no less than three oil spills occurred, killing several hundred penguins, cormorants and other seabirds.

Magellanic Penguins from both the Falkland Islands and South America face natural predators at sea, such as sea lions, leopard seals and orcas (killer whales). They also face predation of chicks and eggs by avian predators, such as gulls and skuas, but where the penguins nest in burrows, such predation is greatly reduced.

Magellanic Penguins are also killed by crab fishermen around the remoter parts of southern Chile, the penguin carcasses being used to bait their crab pots. This probably has little impact on the overall population, but decimates the breeding sites that are affected.

Magellanic Penguins are popular for tourism, but they are the most nervous of penguins. Visitors that approach breeding sites which do not normally have many visitors, will send the penguins scurrying into their burrows for safety. Magellanic Penguins do readily adapt to regular visitation however, and become much less nervous with time. Nevertheless, careful control of tourism near Magellanic Penguin burrows needs to be enforced, since burrows will readily collapse if walked over.

Simple fences keeping people just 2 or 3 metres away from burrows is all that is required, and this can benefit both penguins and tourists. Not only are the penguins protected from being crushed in their burrows, but they also rapidly learn that humans will not enter beyond the fence, and will confidently remain sitting outside their burrows for all to see. By contrast, visitors to unfenced sites will generally see little more than distant penguins scurrying away, or faces looking out from within their burrows.