Among the more fascinating animals at the Zoo is the colony of Magellanic penguins located on Penguin Island across from the Lion House. These seemingly identical flightless black and white seabirds are actually very diverse in personality, disposition and markings, as the penguin keepers can attest to.
Extremely social birds, Magellanic penguins can be seen "flying" through the water at speeds up to 15 miles per hour, basking in the sun, preening or hanging out in one of 36 burrows on the Island.
While most people's image of penguins is of tuxedoed birds padding about on the ice floes of Antarctica, actually only two of the world's 17 species of penguins are native to the polar continent. Since Magellanic penguins inhabit the Strait of Magellan and the coastal regions of Argentina, Chile and the Falkland Islands, they are right at home in San Francisco's temperate, marine climate.
Penguin Island has one of the most successful captive breeding colonies in the world, with 205 penguin chicks fledged since the old reflecting pool was renovated to accommodate penguins in 1984. The San Francisco Zoo participates in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan for the Magellanic penguin.
The 200-foot-long pool was actually built during the 1930's WPA construction era, and over the years has served as a reflecting pool, and later an exhibit space for squirrel monkeys, seals and even Humboldt penguins before its renovation in 1984. At that time, the central island was landscaped with 35 tons of black volcanic rock similar to that found in the penguin’s natural habitat and fitted with custom-made fiberglass burrows for the birds to use as nest sites.