About Penguins

about penguins

Introduction

According to Scientists, penguins evolved from flying birds approximately 60 million years ago.  As their ancestors acclimatised to deep-sea environments, physical alterations for swimming and diving meant that they lost their ability to fly.

Characteristics

Penguins have black and white feathers and waddle about everywhere, which most of us find amusing.  They tend to spend the majority of their time in the water looking for food.  They have a tendency to dive as well as flap their little wings when they’re in the sea, which is deceiving and makes it look like they are flying. 

Physical Appearance

Penguins have a body shape that appears like a torpedo.  It has been designed to allow them to swim efficiently, which they do at around fifteen miles per hour on average. 

Types of Penguin

There are sixteen diverse types of penguin species that currently live in our world. Each one belongs to a bigger group called Genus and all living penguins consist of six Genera – the plural form of genus.  The name of each group and types of penguins that belong in their category are as follows:

  • Aptenodytes – Emperor and King penguins belong to this category.
  • Eudyptes – Erect-Crested, Fiorland, Macorni, Rockhopper and Snares belong here.
  • Eudyptula – only “Little” penguins belong to this group. 
  • Megadyptes – The Yellow-Eyed penguin belongs to this genus.
  • Pygoscelis – Adelie, Chinstrap and Gentoo penguin belong to this category
  • Spheniscus – African, Galapagus, Magellanic and Humboldt penguins are part of this group.

We have provided some detailed information about each type of penguin genus on this site which includes a general description, any habitual behaviour and breeding cycles.  We have also talked about penguin distribution, migration patterns and diet. 

Aptenodytes Penguins

This penguin genus (group) contains the “Emperor” and “King”, they are both quite different to other penguins in so many ways.  They have some distinctive characteristics such as a large, slim beak and vibrant feathers.  Moreover, no other penguin is capable of diving as deep or for as long as these two penguin types.  Unlike other penguins, they just lay one egg and do not build a nest.  Instead, they balance their egg and new born chick on their own feet.  You can read more about some of their unique behavioural traits below. 

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes Forsteri)

emperor penguins

Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) on the ice in the Weddell Sea Antarctica (Photo by Gentoo Multimedia)

Overview:

Emperor Penguins are approximately 67 cm long and weigh 4 kg.  They breed on sea ice during winter months and carry their eggs with their feet.  They eat squid and fish as part of their normal diet.  Emperor Penguins are extreme birds in every single aspect.  They tend to breed in the winter months in the Antarctic and adapt in many ways to extremely cold temperatures.  

Identifying Emperor Penguins:

Emperor Penguins are bigger compared to all other penguins, and stand up to 1.1 meters tall. It is easy to distinguish them because they have a small King penguin on their sides and have a much more robust physique.  They also have a broad light yellow connection that is between their yellow-orange ear blotches and their light yellow breast (upper). Young birds look like adults; however, they are tinier and have a white chin instead of a black one. Their ear patches tend to be white and start to go yellow when they get older.

Behaviours:

Emperor penguins breed when its winter time in the Antarctic between March to December. They balance their eggs and chicks on their feet to stop them from making contact with all the ice. They do not build any nests so they can move around and get close to each other in groups, which offer them a certain amount of protection from cold temperatures. Males are fully responsible for nurturing their eggs for two months in peak winter months when it is continuously dark. Male penguins can feed their off spring for a short period of time if their female partner does not return when their eggs hatch.  Males are capable of feeding their chicks with milk that is discharged from their oesophagus.

Distribution & Breeding

Emperor penguins tend to breed during winter times on firm ice in the southern regions of the Antarctic in groups of around thirty.  It usually depends on polynias – these are open water areas surrounded by ice from the sea in winter.

Migration Patterns:

We do not know much about where these penguins disperse or migrate to after they have bred. Adult Emperor penguins tend to remain in close proximity to ice on a permanent basis for the best part of their existence. Young Emperors have satellite transmitters; nevertheless, they migrate to the far northern regions of the polar front. Nomads have been known to turn up to various Islands like the Falklands, Shetlands, South Sandwich, Tierra del Fuego, Kerguelen, Heard as well as New Zealand.

Diet:

Emperor penguins eat krill, cephalopods and fish to varying degrees, although fish and cephalopods form a significant part of their diets, particularly quantity wise.

Find out more about Emperor Penguins at National Geographic

King Penguin (Aptenodytes Patagonicus)

king penguins

Two King Penguins at Volunteer Point on the Falkland Islands (Photo by Neale Cousland)

Overview:

King Penguinsgrow to around 60 to 68 centimetres and weigh around 2 to 5 kg.  They nest out in the open in groups and tend to have terrains but do not have any nests.  King Penguins have the longest breeding cycle and take between 14 to 16 months to produce a chick.  In winter months, their chicks can get left without food for one to five months.  Adult King penguins can only raise two chicks maximum every 36 months.  Their favourite food is squid and fish.

Identifying King Penguins:

King penguins are the second-biggest species of penguin and look like Emperors, although they do not tend to overlap in their range. They have dark orange cheeks and a white belly.  Their backs are lighter compared to all other types of penguins.  Young King penguins are like adults, although they have duller looking facial feathers. The patches on their ears are light yellow rather than orange, and their throats are grey to white. They tend to get feathers like adults after they turn two.

Behaviours:

King penguins have densely populated groups that contain approximately a thousand pairs.  They can be found between clumps of growing grass, on moderately inclined beaches, and can be more than one kilometre inland occasionally. They do not build nests; however, they maintain their territories in pairs that are a pecking distance away from one another.

Distribution and Breeding

King penguins are just distributed in the sub-Antarctic.  They breed in Crozet, Falkland, Prince Edward, South Georgia, Marion, Heard, Kerguelen, as well as Macquarie Islands. They are typically found in waters (without ice) when they are at sea. Research has revealed that they feed along polar fronts.

Migration Patterns:

King penguins can be spotted in their colonies all year round because of their drawn out breeding cycles. In winter, adults leave their young unattended and might go on extensive journeys prior to returning back to their babies.  A few stragglers have managed to get to South Africa , the Antarctic Peninsula, Gough Island, Mawson , Australia (south as well as Tasmania), and New Zealand.

Diet:

King Penguins mostly eat pelagic fish, particularly laternfish such as Protomyctophum tension, Electrona carlsbergi and Kreffichthys anderssoni.  Cephalopods and crustaceans only play a small role in their diets.

Find out more about King Penguins at the BBC

Eudyptes

This penguin group contains Erect-Crested, Macaroni, Fiorland, Rockhopper and Snares.  Each species lays two eggs; however, only one chick is raised.  The scientific name for this process is called “Obligate Brood Reduction”.  Generally, the chick that survives comes from the second egg, which is a lot bigger than the first one.  Where there are two laid eggs, the order in which they hatch is reversed.  For instance, the baby chick that comes from the second egg tends to hatch earlier than the chick that comes from the first egg.  You can learn more about each type of penguin that belongs to the Eudyptes group below.

Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes Sclateri)

Overview:

Erect-crested penguins are 67cm long and weigh around 4 kg and.  They tend to nest in groups out in the open on rocks.  Their favourite food is squid and krill.  They are strange birds, are distributed in limited areas and breed in extremely isolated parts of the world. 

Identifying Erect-Crested Penguins:

They are very much like other types of crested birds, particularly Fiordlands and Snares.  When they are on dry land, they are easy to recognise because of their erect and yellow coloured feather plumes that you can find on the tops of their heads.  These types of penguins have a distinctive skin on their throat, a beak that is more parallel, plus there is a yellow supercilium that is attached much higher on their beaks compared to Fiordlands or Snares.  It is incredibly hard to try and identify them when they are at sea because all their feather plumes tend to flop down when it is wet (delete sentence). Young Erect-quested penguins have a light yellow supercilium (a distinctive curved stripe above the eyebrow or eye) that does not have any elongated plumes or a speckled grey throat. It is possible to differentiate them from other types of crested penguins by their size, lower supercilium, and throat skin.

Behaviours:

These penguins tend to breed on slopes that are rocky and border the shoreline. Only a handful of pairs build their nests; the majority will lay their eggs on bare rocks. After courting for a long period of time, they lay two eggs; the first one is a lot smaller than the second.  The first egg is habitually lost on the same day in the majority of cases, or prior to laying the second egg.

Distribution & Breeding

These penguins are distributed on Antipodes and Bounty Islands, with the odd nomadic pair that continues to breed on islands in Auckland. These penguins have been spotted breeding on Campbell Island, although they have vanished from this area now. Plenty of sub-fossil materials from places like Chatham Islands have been attributed to this particular species.

Migration Patterns:

These penguins tend not to go to land areas after they moult post breeding.  Not much is known about where they are distributed at sea during winter times. Certain birds frequently moult on Sub-Antarctic Islands and less frequently in southern regions in New Zealand. Nomads have been spotted in Northern Islands in New Zealand, as well as Tasmania, Heard Island, the Falkland Islands and southern Australia.

Diet:

Little is known about Erect-crested penguins’ diets, and it is presumed that they generally eat fish and pelagic crustaceans.

Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes Chrysolophus)

Overview:

Macaroni penguins are much bigger in comparison to Rockhoppers; their average length is about 70cm and they weigh around 5.5kg.  They nest out in the open in their nesting groups.  Their favourite food is krill.  There are plenty of Macaroni penguins around.  Royal Penguins are considered as a subspecies of  Macaroni Penguins. 

Identifying Macaroni Penguins:

Unlike other types of penguins, Macaronis have orange feather plumes and are a bit bigger.  Macaronis that breed in Southern Australia tend to have a white coloured face and are often talked about as Royal penguins.  Young Macaronis are very much like their adults; however, they do not have an elongated feather crest.  They have a short yellow-orange supercilium instead.

Behaviours:

Macaroni penguins breed on rocks, between tussocks as well as beaches. The majority of Macaronis build themselves tiny nests made from pebbles. They scrape out a certain amount of sand or mud.  However; most pairs are happy to lay their eggs on bare rocks.  They lay some of the biggest eggs from the entire bird species.  The first egg that they lay is around 60 to -63% smaller compared to the second egg.  In most cases, they lose their first egg prior to, or even on the same day that they lay their second egg. Studies imply that Macaronis mostly feed along polar fronts and frequently travel about 400 km in order to get to their feeding locations.

Distribution & Breeding

Macaroni penguins are distributed in the sub-Antarctic all the way to the Antarctic Peninsula; however, they are mostly found further along the south unlike all other crested penguins. Their distribution range intersects with that of Rockhoppers. Their breeding groups are located in the Antarctic in islands like Bouvetøya, South Georgia, Prince Edward, Heard Island, Cape Horn, Marion, South Orkney Falklands, South Sandwich, South Shetland, Crozet, Kerguelen, and Macquarie Island.

Migration Patterns:

Macaronis migrate and can be found close to land during non-breeding seasons.  Nomadic Macaronis have been seen in Antarctica, South Africa, The Snares and Campbell Island.  People have seen Royal penguins, potentially breeding with Macaronis on  Crozet, Heard, Island and Marion Island, Kerguelen, and a few stragglers have been spotted on North Island (New Zealand) Diet:

Macaronis mostly survive on shellfish. On Macquarie island, they eat euphausiids (tiny shrimp); they make up 50% of their total diet, whilst fish make up the other 50%. 

Fiordland Penguin (Eudyptes Pachyrhynchus)

Overview:

Fiordland Penguins are approximately 55cm long and weigh between 3.4 to 5kg.  They tend to nest in forests underneath planks or rocks, or inside caves.  Their favourite food is squid and other types of fish. 

Fiordland penguins live in rainforests on South and Stewart Islands as well as New Zealand, where they are widespread.

Identifying Fiorland Penguins:

They have a thick yellow coloured stripe that runs above their eyes and ends in a sinking curl, like Snares do. They can be distinguished from Snares because they are bigger; they have a sequence of white streaks on their cheeks and do not have a thick side-line on the bottom of their beak. Young Fiorlands tend to have white spotted chins, and a thin yellow supercilium.  It is not easy to differentiate them from Snares.

Behaviours:

Fiordland Penguins tend to reproduce in rainforest shelters, where there are densely populated shrubs, underneath rocks and inside caves. They line their nests with grass and twigs. They usually form loose groups; their nests tend to be a few meters apart from each other. All their breeding grounds are on northern regions where there are subtropical convergences.  Most breeding penguins will get their food from here. They start to breed in June and carry on through to the winter months. Males tend to abstain from eating for around forty to forty five days from the time that they arrive to these breeding grounds until they start their first hunting adventure. The second egg that is laid tends to hatch a few days earlier than the first one. The smallest chick that hatches from the first egg usually dies in a couple of days because of starvation.

Distribution & Breeding

Fiorland penguins are widespread in New Zealand. As mentioned, they breed in the rainforest along the south-western coastline on Southern Island all the way down towards Stewart Island.

Migration Patterns:

Sea observations and incidences of moulting in eastern parts of Australia indicate that Fiorlands migrate to the Sea in Tasmania. In addition, they tend to frequently molt on Snares Islands. Nomadic Fiorlands have been noted on certain Islands including Campbell and Macquarie Chathams, and also in Australia (Western region).

Diet:

Fiorlands diets vary from location to location. A study carried out on Codfish Island discovered that tiny fish larvae made up eighty percent of their diet whilst the rest consisted of squid. Nevertheless, studies along the western coastline of South Island revealed that eighty percent of their diet consisted of squid, the rest was crustaceans (13%) and fish (2%). The two studies imply that this type of penguin mostly feeds in pelagic waters by taking shallow dives.

Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes Chrysocome)

Overview:

Rockhoppers are up to 55 cm tall and weigh round 3 kilograms.  They nest in their groups out in the open and occasionally will nest with other types of species.  They occasionally breed in big groups all over the sub-Antarctic. There are two kinds of Rockhoppers – Northern and Southern and they are both related to each other.  Similar things apply to them both, although the evidence regarding this matter remains to be scare. 

Identifying Rockhoppers:

Rockhoppers can be differentiated from other types of crested penguins because of their smaller body size, plus they have a thin yellow coloured superscilium (eyebrow region) and have distinctive red eyes. Their feathers are yellow, and they are a lot slimmer compared to other Eudyptes creatures. Southern Rockhoppers are different to their Northern equals in that they have a thinner supercilium and smaller feathers that extend all the way to the back of their throat. The way that they both vocalise is different, too. Southern Rockhoppers contain two subspecies: nominate and filholi.  The nominate subspecies arrive from the Falkland Islands and South America; whilst the filholi(eastern form) arrive from sub-Antarctic islands in New Zealand. Filholis are mostly different from nominates in that they have a fleshy pink skin along their lower mandible; this is black on nominates. Young Rockhoppers only have a thin supercilium and a lightly speckled and grey coloured chin. It is virtually impossible to separate young Northern and Southern Rockhoppers from one another.

Behaviours:

Rockhoppers breed in their groups on rocks or in swamp areas where there is raised solid ground that is joined together with vegetation and roots (tussocks).  They also breed in caves between crevices on occasions. They build tiny nests with pebbles, compost and tussock. Nonetheless, they lose their first egg during the incubation stage. The small numbers of chicks that hatch from their first egg die in the first couple of days. 

Distribution & Breeding

Northern Rockhoppers breed in cooler climates in the Atlantic and Indian oceans including places like Gough, Tristan da Cunha, and Amsterdam. They breed three months earlier than Southern Rockhoppers who just breed in limited areas in the sub-Antarctic and are only distributed around one of the earth’s poles. 

Migration Patterns:

Moulting Rockhoppers have been spotted in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. Some Nominates have migrated to Snares Islands during moulting season. Nomadic Northern  Rockhoppers have been seen on Chatham Islands.

Diet:

Rockhoppers are meat eaters and usually catch their prey along the ocean.  They also eat crustaceans, especially euphausids.  Other types of sea food like cephalopods make up a small proportion of their diets.

Snares Penguin (Eudyptes Robustus)

Overview:

Snares are average in size and can reach 55 to 70 cm in height and weigh around 4 kilograms.  They nest openly in their social groups or else underneath forest shelters.  Their favourite food is fish, krill and squid.  They are quite similar to Fiorlands in many ways, although they are more widespread on Snares Island. 

Identifying Snares:

Snares can be identified from other penguins because they have loose  feather trails on their crests, the yellow coloured stripes on their face spread further up their beak, plus their beaks are much more  pointed.  The pattern underneath their wings is varied and does not help when it comes to identifying them. 

Behaviours:

Snares breed underneath canopies in the forests in Olearia and on rocks along the coast.  They build their nests using wood, peat(fertilizer) and pebbles in densely populated colonies.  Like Fiordland penguins, they hatch two chicks and the first one usually dies in a few days. 

Distribution & Breeding

Snares are widespread on Snares Islands (south New Zealand).  However; we do not know much about the distribution of non-breeding Snares. 

Migration Patterns:

It is believed that Snares migrate towards the Tasman Sea (South Pacific Ocean between New Zealand and Australia). Nomads have been seen in the Falklands and on Macquarie Island.  

Diet:

The limited research conducted implies that Snares mainly eat  fish, euphausiids, and cephalopods.  They tend to eat in smaller groups and make shallower dives to chase and catch all their prey.

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