With more penguins than people and an island named after the sea lions that amass on its shores, the Falkland Islands are a wildlife destination like no other.
If there’s one thing that draws people from all over the world to visit the Falkland Islands, it’s the impressive array of wildlife that calls the southern archipelago home. Abundant in supply and diverse in nature, the fauna of the Falkland Islands is on par with that offered in the Galapagos, yet much more accessible and without the crowds to compete with!
Whether you’re a keen birder, a wildlife photographer, or a simply love seeing birds and marine mammals in their natural environment – the Falklands will not disappoint.
Falkland Island Penguins
There are five species of penguins that can be found in the Falkland Islands. The most common are Magellanic and Gentoo, followed by Rockhoppers and King, and less often the Macaroni. They’re all unique and all a pleasure to watch.
Their antics will kept you spellbound for hours!
Seemingly the most prolific, Magellanic penguins can be found burrowing into the soft peaty earth all over the Falkland Islands. These medium-sized black and white penguins are shy in nature, but if you keep your distance, some will happily pose for photographs. Their distinctive circular markings mean they are easily identified, even while hanging out with the Gentoos on the beach.
The mascot of the Falkland Islands – the Gentoo Penguin – is slightly bigger than the Magellanic, and much more outgoing. You’ll often find them surfing the waves, or walking the ‘penguin highway’ to their colonies inland. Gentoo penguins are also black and white but their orange bills and pinkish feet make them more closely resemble their larger cousins – the King penguin.
Rockhopper penguins defy the clumsiness that penguins are renowned for, by deftly climbing the steepest and sharpest of cliff faces. Confidently hopping from one rock to another, their small frame and pink webbed feet scale the island’s walls to perch on rocky promontories overlooking the sea. Their bright red eyes are framed by a crest of spiky yellow feathers that make them look curiously coiffed (and a little bad-tempered!)
Macaroni penguins look very similar to Rockhopper penguins and the closely related birds like to hang out together in the Falklands. There is a subtle difference in appearance between the two penguins though.
Macaroni’s are slightly larger in size than the Rockhopper. And their crest feathers are more vibrant in colour and more flamboyant in shape! Macaroni penguins have also been known to breed with Rockhopper penguins, creating a hybrid chick.
The largest of the penguins found in the Falkland Islands (and the second largest penguin in the world), King penguins are also the most impressive to see and hear!
The world’s most accessible King penguin colony can be found just 2.5 hours from the country’s capital, Stanley. Their prime spot at Volunteer Point in East Falkland makes it a popular attraction for tourists and locals alike.
Other Birdlife in the Falklands
With over 219 recorded species of birdlife in the Falkland Islands, I couldn’t possibly cover them all in one blog post, but let’s just say it’s a bird watchers paradise!
I loved seeing the monogamous upland geese fly around in pairs, the cheeky caracara who landed on my camera, the flightless steamer ducks waddling on the beach and the rock cormorants battling the wind as they tried to land on rocky ledges.
The outer islands are absolutely teeming with birdlife. I’m no birder, and yet I managed to spot 25 different species in just one afternoon on Weddell Island!
Here are a few highlights…
Two-thirds of the world’s black-browed albatrosses live in the Falklands and while a large number of them hang out on the harder-to-get-to Steeple Jason Island, I saw a large number feeding just off Weddell Island also. Their elongated wingspan of 200-240 cm is an impressive sight as they swoop in to land.
Southern Giant Petrel
As Jane from Weddell Island put it, ‘the albatross get all the glory, but the petrels are just as impressive’.
With a wingspan of up to 205 cm, they certainly deserve their fair share of the limelight. Effortless gliders, you’ll see these birds all around the coasts of the Falklands.
More commonly referred to as Johnny Rooks by the locals, these bold-faced birds are usually seen on the outer islands of the Falklands. You’ll find them wherever you find penguins, as the Johnny Rook is a ruthless scavenger.
Cheeky in nature, they aren’t afraid of humans and will take an interest in anything shiny. I even heard reports of them stealing sunglasses from unsuspecting visitors and a gang almost got away with my camera!
Falkland Flightless Steamer Duck
They may be flightless (due to their short wings), but the Falkland Flightless steamer ducks sure know how move! They use a combination of feet and wing paddling that allows them to move at speed on water. Even if in doing so they look rather peculiar!
“These clumsy, loggerheaded ducks make such a noise and splashing, that the effect is exceedingly curious.” – Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle.
Aside from the comedic value of clumsy penguins, watching the incredible antics of the rock cormorants as they battled huge winds to land on barren cliffs was one of my favourite bird experiences. The skill these small birds show as they expertly hover and swoop will take your breath away – as will the sheer number of them!
The Falklands unique location and sparsely inhabited islands make them a magnet for marine mammals of all varieties! Although some are harder to see without the help of a boat, even visitors who don’t venture out into the unruly seas will get a chance to appreciate these majestic creatures.
Sea Lions and Elephant Seals
Sprawled out in the sand, bellies turned towards the sun and flippers lazily scratching their sides – you’ll find sea lions and elephant seals clogging the coastlines of the Falkland Islands.
Sea Lion Island is an obvious choice, with 95% of the Falklands elephant seal population hanging out here, but sea lions can be found on many of the other islands shorelines also.
Watch out as you walk through the tussock – disturbing a sleeping seal or lion may land you in hot water. They can move quicker than you think! But chances are, you’ll hear them before you see them – elephant seals in particular let out a guttural sound warning you of their presence.
During breeding season, males of both species put on a show as they battle for the right to breed.
Dolphins and Whales
The most commonly sighted dolphins in the Falklands are the Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins. There are a four other species native to the waters surrounding the islands, but they are rarely seen close to shore. I was lucky enough to spot both Peale’s and Commerson’s dolphins while on Weddell Island and they put on quite the show – surfing in the shallow waters just off the shore.
Many species of whale can also be seen migrating past the islands. If you look down as you fly around between the islands, you may just see a telltale dark shadow beneath the waves, or spot a blowhole shooting water high into the air.
Most whales pass by the islands on their migration route, but playful orcas are commonly found off the shores of Sea Lion Island for many months a year. They like to prey on the young sea lion pups, so are mainly present between September to February – when there are plenty in supply.
Both the Patagonian grey fox and reindeer have been introduced to the Falkland Islands. The reindeer were gifted from South Georgia (who later culled their reindeer population) and the foxes were introduced from South America. They’re only present on two islands – Beaver Island & Weddell Island – and it was while visiting the latter that I laid my eyes on both species!
The wildlife of the Falkland Islands is as varied as it is astounding! I’ve never experienced something so unique, so magical, as seeing so many animals and mammals living in harmony with each other, the landscape, and with the human population of the islands.
If you only need one reason to visit the Falklands, the wildlife is it!