While Isla Chañaral (29°02’S) in Chile has long been recognized as one of the most important breeding islands for the Humboldt Penguin, the reported numbers of birds there never exceeded 3,500 breeding individuals in the last two decades. However, in 2002, a one-day survey found considerably more penguins present on Isla Chañaral, which exceed the world population estimate for the species (3,300-12,000 birds). Between 9 and 14 February 2003 we conducted a census of the Humboldt Penguin on Isla Chañaral. Two different survey methods were combined to assess the number of penguins. Terrestrial or surface counts were used to survey penguins on open plains or beaches. Small area surveys of randomly established quadrats were conducted to assess the density of penguins in nests and the total number of nest sites. Results from small area surveys were extrapolated using surface size ratios of counting quadrats vs. entire nesting sectors. We determined that approximately 22,000 adult Humboldt Penguins, 3,600 chicks and 117 juveniles were present on the island during the survey. The results were much higher than any previously published estimate. Natural processes alone cannot account for an increase, and penguin numbers on Isla Chañaral previously have been underestimated. The results correspond well with recent publications that suggest that Humboldt Penguin numbers in Chile have been underestimated in the past due to inappropriate or inconsistent census methods. There are concerns about the current protection status of the island in light of its fragility and importance as the premier breeding location of the Humboldt Penguin along its entire distributional range.
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Vol. 27 • No. 3