All About Penguins

Our team at Polar Holidays has been visiting Antarctica and its penguin residents for almost two decades! We have put together a fantastic fact sheet to answer any and all questions you may have about these adorable Antarctic birds. Penguins come in many shapes and sizes, discover more below!

Are Penguins Birds Or Mammals? What Type Of Animal Is A Penguin?

Some might consider penguins difficult to classify.  Most species of penguins live in harsh cold climates and swim.  They are warm-blooded, lay eggs, and have feathers; therefore, they are birds by official scientific designation but are flightless just as ostriches, emu, and cassowaries.  Many people mistakenly believe that being warm-blooded makes an animal a mammal.  While this is true in the case of fish, reptiles, and amphibians, it is not true of birds.  Birds are also warm-blooded, and penguins are birds.

Special Features

Just because penguins live in water and on land doesn’t make them mammals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians.  Interestingly, they almost appear to be “flying” when they swim because they use their flippers in a flapping motion.

Penguins have adapted their wings into flippers that help them swim more easily.  Penguins live only in the southern hemisphere (except for one species) and a few species are found in very cold climates such as Antarctica.  However, of the 17 species of penguins, most do not live in Antarctica. Some people think that penguins are covered in fur but this is not accurate.  Penguins actually possess feathers, not fur.  These feathers are different for most penguins.  They are packed very tightly together so that – in pictures or videos – it may look as if they have fur.  Penguin feathers are short and dense to give a “skin-like” appearance to penguins.  Penguin babies, called “chicks,” are covered in fuzzy down feathers which help to keep them warm.  They look quite furry – but again this isn’t fur – it is feathers.

Penguins As Birds

Penguins share many observable traits found in other birds as well.  They have beaks, wings, lay eggs, have feathers, and incubate their eggs.  Penguins also have their eyes located on the sides of their heads to watch for predators like most prey animals, and they have feet that share similarities to those found on ducks, geese, or swans. Another important piece of penguin information:  penguins’ naming taxonomy puts them in the class called “Aves” – which is completely composed of other birds. Penguin beaks do not have teeth.  Penguin eggs are hard-shelled, unlike the soft-shelled eggs found among most fish, amphibians, and reptiles.  Penguins also breathe air through one-way lungs and do not have gills.  Penguin bones are hollow too.  Penguins also possess a cloaca – which is a common cavity at the end of their digestive tract used for the release of both waste excrements and genital (sex-organ) products. Most placental-born mammals do not have a cloaca and the boniest fish do not have one either.

DNA Evidence  

And finally the last bit of evidence for classification penguin information? Penguin DNA is clearly “bird” in nature and does not share as many similarities in its DNA as that found in the DNA of fish, reptiles, mammals, or amphibians.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap Penguin

Are There Both Antarctic Penguins and Arctic Penguins? 

One common misconception people have about Arctic Cruises is that they will see Arctic Penguins.  Unfortunately, there is no such thing as an “Arctic” penguin. Although it would be a great experience or photo, Arctic polar bears and Antarctic penguins do not exist in the same climate or hemisphere – and live nearly 12,000 miles apart!

Where Do penguins Live? Facts About Penguins’ Typical Habitats:

All penguin species evolved in the southern hemisphere where there are virtually no predators. In fact, there are zero modern-day predators to threaten penguins in Antarctica. This is in stark contrast to the Arctic where there are a variety of predators such as foxes, wolves, and polar bears. Penguin colonies are found on bluffs and on the rock parts of the continent. They do however traverse the large glaciers on the continent as well. 

Did penguins Once Inhabit The Arctic?

Penguin species did inhabit the Arctic in the past. In the 1800s, some explorers tried introducing penguins to the Arctic, but the colonies did not survive due to different conditions and predators. There was also a species called the Great Auk that inhabited the Arctic natively, but went extinct in 1844. The Great Auk was known as “the penguin of the north” even though it was not officially a species of penguin.  Interestingly, the modern English word for “penguin” comes from the Great Auk’s scientific name Pinguinus impennis.

Modern Preservation and Conservation

While it is unfortunate that this species was driven to extinction by people in the 19th Century, we seem to be doing somewhat better at preserving modern Antarctic penguin species and you will have an opportunity to view some of these by booking one of our Antarctic cruises where we take conservation very seriously.

What Species Is A Penguin?  How Many Species Of Penguin Are There?

Penguins are not made of just one species.  There are many different species of penguins – and they all belong to the order Sphenisciformes and the family Spheniscidae.  

What Types Of Penguins Are There?  How Many Different Penguin Species Are There?

Most scientists place either 17 or 18 species of penguin in the family Spheniscidae. There is debate among scientists about the Rockhopper Penguin species.  Some scientists argue that there are two species here:  Northern and Southern Rockhoppers.

Are Penguins An Endangered Species?

Thirteen of these species are considered vulnerable, threatened, or endangered. The Galapagos Penguin is the only species that sometimes ventures into the northern hemisphere. The most well-known penguin species are African Penguins, Emperor Penguins, King Penguins, Gentoo Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins, and Little Penguins (also known as the “Little Blue Penguin or Fairy Penguin).

Gentoo Penguins

Gentoo Penguin, Chick, and Egg

How Many Penguin Species Are Extinct?

Approximately 40 species of penguin may have already gone extinct due to natural processes, disasters, or hunting.  Today all remaining species of penguin are legally protected.

What Are The Various Species Of Penguin Names And Penguin Breeds?

Adélie Penguin – Pygoscelis adeliae

African Penguin – Spheniscus demersu

Chinstrap Penguin – Pygoscelis antarcticus

Emperor Penguin – Aptenodytes forsteri

Erect-crested Penguin – Eudyptes sclateri

Fiordland Penguin – Eudyptes pachyrhynchus

Galapagos Penguin – Spheniscus mendiculus

Gentoo Penguin – Pygoscelis papua

Humboldt Penguin – Spheniscus humboldti

King Penguin – Aptenodytes patagonicus

Little Penguin – Eudyptula minor

Macaroni Penguin – Eudyptes chrysolophus 

Magellanic Penguin – Spheniscus magellanicus

Northern Rockhopper Penguin – Eudyptes moseleyi 

Royal Penguin – Eudyptes schlegeli

Snares Penguin – Eudyptes robustus

Southern Rockhopper Penguin – Eudyptes chrysocome 

Yellow-eyed Penguin – Megadyptes antipodes

king penguins on South Georgia beach

King Penguins

Which Types Of Penguins Are In Antarctica?  Do Most Penguins Live In Antarctica?

In terms of amazing Antarctic penguin facts, at best, only 44% of penguin species could be considered “Antarctic” or “Sub-Antarctic”– that’s less than half of all penguin species.  But when you consider only species that breed and spend significant time in Antarctica itself, that number falls to just four species or just 23.5% of all penguin species.  No matter how we classify penguins, it is accurate to state that most penguin species are not Antarctic penguins! 

 

To summarize, of the 17-18 distinct species of penguin that exist, only 7 live in or near Antarctica.

List Of True Antarctic Penguins

4 penguin species can be considered “true” Antarctic penguins since they breed on or near Antarctica and spend much of their lives in Antarctica.  They are the Adélie Penguin, the Chinstrap Penguin, the Emperor Penguin, and the Gentoo Penguin. 

Sub-Antarctic Penguin Species List

Finally, a further three species of penguins live or spend a great deal of time on sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia Island, Heard Island, or the Falklands Islands. They are King Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, and Rockhopper Penguins.

How Do Penguins Mate?  Can I Learn More About Penguins Mating Behaviors And Rituals?

First of all, penguins cannot take a mate until they have reached sexual maturity. This age varies depending on the penguin species.  Some of the smaller penguin species will reach sexual maturity in as little as three or four years.  Most species take at least five years.  Some males can take up to eight years until they begin breeding.

Penguins practice nest site fidelity. This means that both the male and female will return to the same nesting site every year to mate and rear their chicks. 

Penguin Monogamy

Penguins are typically monogamous – or more accurately – they practice serial monogamy. Sometimes one partner will return to the couples’ nesting site only to find out that the other penguin has already moved on to another mate.

Maccaroni pengui

Maccaroni Penguin 

How Do Penguins Attract A Mate? 

They will use both auditory and visual means of signaling that they are ready to mate.  It is a cooperative process to raise a chick so the females must carefully choose a mate.  Lady penguins are the ones who choose males based on the courtship rituals that are displayed.  Male penguins must first choose a good nesting site and then give what’s known as an “ecstatic display.”  

Courtship Displays 

First, he will dip his head low, then he’ll rear his head all the way back and stretch his neck back while spreading his wings – rather his flippers – as wide as possible and puffing his chest out.  Then he will make a loud “bray” or squawking sound.  If the female is interested, she will kind of do a dipping bow.  Then the male will reciprocate the bow to agree. After becoming a pair, the couple will engage in many ecstatic displays to announce their status to the other penguins in the colony.  Whenever they re-greet each other or transfer the egg, they will engage in these noisy, movement-filled ecstatic displays of happiness.  This strong bond is the key to the successful incubation of the egg and the survival of the chick.

Mating Rituals

As for the act of penguins mating, the female will lie down on the ground on her belly.  The male will climb on her back, walking backward, until he reaches her tail.  The female lifts her tail exposing her cloaca, which is a single orifice used both in mating and for waste disposal of urine and feces.  The male aligns his cloaca to hers so that sperm can be transferred and this sexually reproductive process leads to the female laying an egg.

Penguin Egg Facts:

King and Emperor penguins lay just one egg each season.  The egg is incubated on top of the feet of the penguin without the use of a nest.  Many other penguin species will lay two eggs.  Nesting materials vary.  Some penguins make a nest out of their own guano (feces).  Others use natural dips in the land, rocks or pebbles, or other materials.  The male generally takes the first incubation shift while females feed and fatten up.  The chicks will rely on regurgitated food from the mother once they hatch from an egg.  Male Emperor Penguins usually have to wait for the two coldest months of winter with no food while they incubate the eggs, wait for them to hatch, and allow their mate to feed extensively.

Courtship

During the courtship ritual, it is thought that the quality of the male’s song can indicate how fat the male is and also his commitment to keeping the egg warm.  Females want a male that can survive the full ordeal of incubating the egg while she is acquiring future food stores for the chick.

Do People Eat Penguin Eggs?

In the past, it was allowable to eat penguin eggs in places like South Africa and the Falklands Islands.  Now all penguin species are legally protected so you cannot eat penguin eggs. Penguin eggs vary in size depending on the species.  Emperors have eggs around four to four and a half inches long that weigh 12-18 ounces.  Adélie penguins lay eggs that are about 2.2-3.4 inches long.

Rockhopper penguins

Rockhopper Penguins

How Long Do Penguins Live?  What’s The Penguin Lifespan For Various Species?

Magellanic penguins live the longest at up to approximately 30 years.  Emperor penguins can live around 20 years. The Little (Blue) Penguin lives for approximately six years. Penguins who live in captivity tend to live longer due to having less stress, fewer predators, stable sources of food, and higher survival rates for chicks that make it into adulthood.

What’s The Typical Penguin Habitat?

Penguins cannot fly and this means that they cannot easily escape predators. Therefore, penguin land habitats tend to be islands or continental regions that are free from land-based predators.  Examples of such locations include the Galapagos Islands, the Falklands Islands, South Georgia Island, and Antarctica. Many of these penguin-filled locations can be seen on our Polar Holidays Cruises.

Water As A Habitat

Since penguins tend to be predators that eat fish, krill, and other ocean wildlife, their other main habitat tends to be in the water, more specifically, in the open ocean. This habitat does make them more vulnerable to predation where they are hunted by Leopard seals, sea lions, and orcas (killer whales). Most penguins are well-adapted to cold water, salty, marine environments.

Do All Penguins Prefer The Same Habitat?

Penguin habitats vary greatly by species though, with Galapagos penguins living in the tropics, to Adélie and Emperor Penguins who live smack in the middle of some of the coldest climates on earth. 

About Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguin Facts and Interesting Knowledge:

  • Emperor Penguin walking speed is a maximum of 1.7 miles per hour (2.8 kph).
  • They move faster while sledding on snow and ice on their bellies.
  • The Emperor Penguin is the heaviest and tallest of all current penguin species alive today.  
  • “Penguin” is a word with an uncertain origin.  In the Welsh language, “pen” means “head” and “gwyn” means “white.”  In Latin, the word “penguis” means “fat or well-fed.”
  • Males and females are similar in size, but weights differ at the beginning of breeding season.
  • They are one of four species of penguins living in Antarctica.  Only 23.5% of all penguin species live in Antarctica itself.  Most species live elsewhere.
  • Their backside (dorsal) is all black.  Their bellies are white.  Their chests become bright yellow as one moves upward from the belly to the neck.
  • Emperor penguins have amazing free-diving abilities.  No bird on earth can dive deeper than Emperor Penguins.
  • 60% of all Emperor Penguins are female.  This means that females have to compete for more in order to find a mate.
  • Emperor baby penguins are called “chicks.”
  • Considering their clumsiness on land, Emperor penguins must trek between 31 and 75 miles (50-120 km) inland to get to and from their colony. 
  • Emperor penguin lifespan is approximately 20 years in the wild.  It is believed that some individuals could possibly live up to 50 years.
  • Breeding colonies have thousands of Emperor Penguins.  
  • Females lay just one egg after mating with their partner.  The egg is transferred to the male who incubates it by holding it atop his feet for two months of the coldest winters on the planet.  It’s kept warm by a feathery pouch called a “brood pouch.”  
  • The female feeds in the cold waters of the ocean and comes back fattened up and ready to regurgitate meals to the newborn baby penguin chick.
  • Penguins can eat snow as a source of water.  They also have an adaptation that allows them to drink salt water due to a gland that gets rid of extra salt consumed.

Emperor Penguin vs. King Penguin – Similarities And Differences:  What Do Emperor Penguins Look Like?

Similarities

  • Both species belong to the same genus:  Aptenodytes.  This word means “large penguin” and both Kings and Emperors are the largest of living penguins today.
  • Emperor Penguins are the biggest living species
  • King Penguins are the second-biggest species of penguin
  • Both species do not use nests.  They incubate eggs between a flap of skin called a “brood patch” and sitting upon their feet.
  • General facial coloring pattern is somewhat similar
King penguin

King Penguin

Differences

  • Emperors live in Antarctica.  Kings live on sub-Antarctic islands such as Macquarie and South Georgia Islands.
  • Emperors breed every 12 months.  Kings breed every 16 months.  This causes Kings to have one of every three years of raising a chick end in failure.
  • Emperor Penguin size is 25% taller vs. King Penguin.
  • Emperor Penguin mass is three times more than a King Penguin’s mass on average.
  • Emperor Penguins can handle Antarctic climate because they have a smaller surface area of exposed skin and feathers as compared to their physical volume.  This means they can more easily survive colder winters with all this heft packed into a smaller relative wrapping than that of a King Penguin.
  • Emperor Penguin bills are curved downward at the end more than King Penguin bills.
  • King Penguin bills are more yellow-orange in coloration.  Emperor Penguin bills have a slightly pinkish hue to them.
  • King Penguin necks have a more orange portion on their necks than Emperor Penguins possess on their neck and head.
  • Emperor Penguin chicks look quite fat near their feet, almost like an upside-down hot air balloon.  Their coloration is similar to the full-grown adult version.  However, King Penguins are shaped more egg-like and oval.  They are brown and initially, explorers thought they were a separate species that they named the “Wooly Penguin!”
  • King Penguins’ transformation into adolescence is certainly more awkward given this dramatic coloring change.  Emperor Penguin chicks look very cute (think Happy Feet the movie).  They have a sort of black and white face mask that makes their eyes really pop-out.
  • King Penguins might be found in photographs with grass, moss, or rocks not covered in snow.  You will not see these features in Emperor Penguin photos or videos.
Emperor penguins and chicks

Emperor Penguins

Emperor Penguin Scientific Name: Common Name, Taxonomy, And Meaning

Common Name:  Emperor Penguin

Kingdom:  Animalia

Phylum:  Chordata

Class:  Aves

Order:  Sphenisciformes

Family:  Spheniscidae

Genus and Species (Scientific Name):  Aptenodytes forsteri

“Aptenodytes” is Latin for “large penguin.”

Emperor Penguin Height:  How Tall Are Emperor Penguins?  What Does An Emperor Penguin Look Like Next To A Human?

  • Both males and females can be up to 4 feet 3.6 inches tall (51.6 in. /  1.31 m)
  • The shortest adult emperor penguins are only 3 ft. 7.2 in. (43.2 in / 1.097 m)
  • There was a species of penguin alive 37 million years ago that would be comparable to LeBron James (NBA Basketball Player). This penguin called the “Colossus Penguin” would have stood 6 feet 8 inches (2.032 m) and weighed around 250 lbs (113.4 kg).
  • Full grown Emperor Penguins stand roughly two-thirds as tall as the height of a full-grown human man or as tall as the average third grader.

Emperor Penguin Adaptations:

  • All species of penguins, including emperors, are flightless. 
  • Their wings have evolved into flippers that make them surprisingly agile swimmers.
  • Emperor penguins possess incredible lung capacity. 
  • Like all birds, they breathe air and must surface regularly for it in between dives for prey. 
  • Scientists have measured Emperors diving for up to 22 minutes between breaths.
  • The deepest recorded free diving record for an Emperor currently stands at 1,755 feet (535 meters)!
  • Emperors have several adaptations which allow them to survive such deep dives. 
    • Their hemoglobin structure (in the blood) is different – allowing low levels of blood oxygenation. 
    • They have solid bones which help avoid barotrauma (tearing of the tissues and organs due to pressure differences inside and outside of the body). 
    • Impressively, Emperor penguins can also slow down their metabolism – thus reducing a need for oxygen – and they can turn off parts of their organs that are not deemed mission critical during such dives.
  • Penguins can eat snow as a source of water.  They also have an adaptation that allows them to drink salt water due to a gland that gets rid of extra salt consumed.
  • Penguins can swim up to 20 mph (32 kph).
  • Penguins can see very well underwater, making them excellent hunters.
  • Penguins do have a layer a fat under their skin that is referred to as “blubber.”  This is needed since all penguins inhabit cold waters in the Southern Hemisphere and its oceans.
  • Penguins have a gland that puts out a type of oil that they cover feathers with.  This helps make them waterproof and warmer in cold waters.

Baby Emperor Penguin Facts:  Emperor Penguin Chicks

  • Baby penguins of all species are called “chicks”
  • Baby Emperor Penguin chicks must wait for their mother to return in order to receive their first meal.
  • Emperor Penguin chicks eat fish, krill, and squid that are regurgitated (thrown up) from the mother into their little beaks.  
  • The food is stored in a special place in the parents’ stomach and is partially digested, making it easier for the baby penguin to consume.
  • Father Emperor Penguins immediately head back out to the open ocean to feed for the next 24 days.  Upon return, he will feed the baby penguin chick and the mother will go out feeding.
  • Watching over the baby penguin chick is called “brooding.”  Some mother penguins will try to kidnap baby penguin chicks because their chick was lost or died. This is due to very strong parental hormones and instinct. Mothers and fathers must keep careful watch over their baby penguin chicks to ensure that they are not kidnapped. Unfortunately, many kidnapped baby penguins are trampled to death as childless penguins fight with each other and the actual parents for these babies.
  • Approximately 45-60 days after hatching, emperor baby penguin chicks form a group called a crèche.  Basically, they huddle together for warmth and protection. These densely packed groups can contain up to several thousand birds and they are necessary for surviving the harsh temperatures found in Antarctica.
  • By mid-Spring (early November) baby penguin chicks will begin molting. Now they will have their “juvenile plumage,” but the process takes a couple of months.
  • Usually, this molting process does not finish occurring by the time they leave the colony. Adults will stop feeding the youngsters around this time.
  • Baby Emperor Penguin chicks now travel to the sea in December and will spend the rest of the summer feeding out in the ocean.
Emperor penguin chick face

Emperor Penguin Chick

Emperor Penguin Diet:  What Do Emperor Penguins Eat?

Emperor penguins eat fish mostly.  They also consume some crustaceans – such as krill – and some cephalopods – for example, squid. Females travel up to 600 miles away from the Antarctic mainland to fill up on food while the males are incubating the eggs.

King penguins

King Penguins

Emperor Penguin Weight:  What Is The Average Emperor Penguin Mass?

  • They range in weight from 49 to 99 lbs. (22-45 kg)
  • Emperor penguins must endure long periods without food, therefore the weight of an adult changes at different times of the year.
  • Female and male Emperors weight around the same – but males typically weigh a bit more.
  • Emperor Penguin mass ranges from 50-100 lbs. during a typical year.  Imagine losing half of your body weight each year followed by doubling your weight.  It’s no wonder that Emperor Penguins are so awkward on land – they can’t get used to whatever weight they are at!
  • Emperor penguins are the 5th heaviest bird on the planet.  Only ostriches, Southern and Northern Cassowaries, and Emus are heavier.
  • Males don’t eat for more than two months while they incubate eggs.  Average weight loss is around 26 lbs (12 kg) during this time.  That’s at least 25% of their body weight!  Sometimes more than 50% of the total weight can be lost during this time.
  • At the beginning of breeding season, the average male weighs 84 lbs (38 kg) and the average female weighs 65 lbs (29.5 kg).  
  • Post-breeding season, both sexes weigh an average of 51 lbs (23 kg).
  • Penguin babies called “chicks” weigh around 11 oz (315 g) upon hatching.
  • Penguin chicks reach the “fledging” stage when they are around 50% of their normal adult weight.

Emperor Penguin Population:  How Many Emperor Penguins Are In The Antarctic Wild?

  • Scientists believe there are approximately 585,000-600,000 wild Emperor Penguins that make up the world’s entire population in Antarctica.
  • It is estimated that there are 40-46 current Emperor Penguin colony sites in Antarctica.
  • Each colony contains at least a few hundred pairs of penguins.  The largest colonies have over 20,000 penguin pairs.
  • 80% of the Emperor Penguin population is made up of individuals 5 years of age or older.
  • Only 40% of all Emperor Penguins are males.
  • Each breeding colony contains thousands of individuals.
  • Scientists used satellite images to estimate the number of penguin colonies.  They use the reddish-brown color of the guano (feces) to identify a colony’s location.
  • It’s difficult to estimate how many adults are in a colony since they are always coming and going to feed.  Therefore, scientists will often estimate that there are three adults for every one baby penguin chick they are able to count in a colony.

Emperor Penguin Lifespan:  How Long Do Emperor Penguins Live?

  • Emperor Penguins have an average life expectancy of 19.9 years – but some can live up to fifty years old.
  • Both males and females generally live between 20 and 25 years in the wild if they survive their own hatching and make it to adulthood.
  • Both sexes live 25-30 years on average in captivity
  • 81% of newborn baby penguin chicks will perish during their first year of life.
  • Therefore, 80% of the Emperor Penguin population is made up of individuals 5 years of age or older.
  • Researchers estimate that one percent of successfully hatched Emperor Penguin eggs could make it to age 50.

Emperor Penguin Egg Facts

  • Female Emperor Penguins lay just one egg during each breeding season.
  • Emperor Penguin eggs are one of the smallest eggs relative to the maternal weight in any bird species.
  • Males are responsible for keeping the egg safe and warm during the Antarctic winter.
  • Females are responsible for bringing back a full belly of food that they will regurgitate back to baby penguin chicks after the egg hatches.
  • Emperor Penguins do not have nests.
  • Emperor Penguins keep the egg safe and warm by holding it atop their feet and under a flap of feathery skin called a “brood patch”, which is like a pouch.
  • Only 19% of baby penguin chicks will survive past their first year of life.
  • 15.7% of the weight of a baby penguin egg is the weight of the shell.
  • The first Emperor Penguin egg hatched in captivity occurred in 1980 inside the Penguin Encounter exhibit at SeaWorld San Diego.  The first hand-raised baby Emperor Penguin chick also occurred at the same location.  Since then, SeaWorld has hatched and raised more than twenty Emperor Penguins.

Emperor Penguin Habitat:  Where Do Emperor Penguins Live?

  • 37 of the 40 or so known Emperor Penguin colonies live on what’s called “fast ice.”  Fast ice is open ocean water that freezes during the winter (June-September) and is attached to the main Antarctic continent.  This ice breaks up during Autumn (September-December), but sometimes it is so thick that it does not break up at all.
Emperor penguins family

Emperor Penguins and Chick

  • Emperor Penguins sometimes never set foot on solid land even once in their lives.  This makes them the only bird species on earth to possess such a distinction.
  • Emperor Penguin habitats vary during the year.  Emperors spend much of their lives hunting in the open ocean, so this is considered their most “native” habitat.
  • Winters are extreme reaching –76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius) with winds up to 124 mph (200 kph).

Emperor Penguin Life Cycle:

  • Emperor Penguins are capable of mating around four years of age.  Most do not do so until five or five and a half years.
  • They mate on the Antarctic sea ice during winter.
  • Emperor Penguins face the harshest climate of any bird species, surviving temperatures of -76 degrees Fahrenheit (-60 degrees Celsius).
  • Approximately one-third of the entire population mates each year.  That is about 200,000 Emperor Penguins.
  • There are approximately 40 Emperor Penguin colonies.
  • Emperor Penguin mating cycles last nine months.
  • After mating, the female goes out to sea to feed so that she can nourish the newborn baby penguin chick.
  • After mating, the male begins incubating the single egg.  He will sit on it for approximately 72 days.
  • Males incubate the egg with a thick layer of skin called a “brood patch.”
  • If the female doesn’t return quickly, the male can provide some very basic “milk” for a few days.  This milk is secreted by the esophagus.
  • Once the female returns, she will regularly regurgitate food to the chick.  Now males and females will take turns going out to sea to feed while the other parent feeds and cares for the chick.
  • Only 19% of baby penguin chicks will survive past their first year of life.
  • Penguin chicks reach the “fledging” stage when they are around 50% of their normal adult weight.
  • Watching over the baby penguin chick is called “brooding.”  Some mother penguins will try to kidnap baby penguin chicks because their chick was lost or died.  This is due to very strong parental hormones and instinct.  Mothers and fathers must keep careful watch over their baby penguin chicks to ensure that they are not kidnapped.  Unfortunately, many kidnapped baby penguins are trampled to death as childless penguins fight with each other and the actual parents for these babies.
  • Approximately 45-60 days after hatching, emperor baby penguin chicks form a group called a crèche.  Basically, they huddle together for warmth and protection.  These densely packed groups can contain up to several thousand birds and they are necessary for surviving the harsh temperatures found in Antarctica.
  • By mid-Spring (early November) baby penguin chicks will begin molting.  Now they will have their “juvenile plumage,” but the process takes a couple of months.
  • Usually, this molting process does not finish occurring by the time they leave the colony.  Adults will stop feeding the youngsters around this time.
  • Baby Emperor Penguin chicks now travel to the sea in December and will spend the rest of the summer feeding out in the ocean.
  • Emperor Penguins have an average life expectancy of 19.9 years – but some can live up to fifty years old.
  • Both males and females generally live between 20 and 25 years in the wild if they survive their own hatching and make it to adulthood.
  • Both sexes live 25-30 years on average in captivity
  • Researchers estimate that one percent of successfully hatched Emperor Penguin eggs could make it to age 50.
Emperor penguins group

Emperor Penguins and Chicks

Annual Breeding Cycle Of The Emperor Penguin:

  • End of March (Beginning of Antarctic Autumn):  All Emperors gather at their colony
  • Mid-April:  mating occurs
  • Mid-May (Mid/Late Autumn):  laying baby penguin eggs – females leave
  • Mid-July (Winter): eggs hatch – females return
  • Early September (early Spring):  baby penguin chicks leave pouch and form crèches (groups).
  • Mid-December (late Spring/early Summer):  parents start abandoning chicks
  • Mid-January (Summer):  chicks fledge and adults molt
  • From February to End of March:  free time for adults

Are Emperor Penguins Endangered Or Threatened?  Do Emperor Penguin Predators Exist?

Emperor Penguins are threatened because of global climate change and overfishing activities caused by humans. Their habitats are changing rapidly each year and it is unknown how these animals will be able to adapt to this. Global fish stocks are declining because more fishing boats are venturing to Antarctic waters and the Southern Ocean – and this is creating pressure for Emperor Penguins who must now compete against humans for fish, krill, and squid. A recent study estimates that at least 20% of the Emperor Penguin population may die from Global Warming by the year 2100.  This is because the penguins rely on sea ice for breeding colonies and sea ice is increasingly unstable and breaking up.

Penguin Predators

While penguins themselves are predators, they do have predators that eat them and their eggs. Emperor Penguin chicks are the most likely to fall prey to a predator.  Seabirds – especially Giant Petrels and Skuas – and marine mammals that hunt – particularly Leopard Seals and Orca (Killer Whales). Some of the 19th Century human explorers to Antarctica were predators of Emperor Penguins because they were trying to survive harsh conditions and did not have other sources of food. All 18 species of penguin – including Emperors – are protected legally from both hunting and egg collecting.  The Antarctic Treaty of 1959 is responsible for this.

By going on one of our Antarctic cruises, you can help contribute to Emperor Penguin conservation.

Little Blue Penguin Facts:  Will I See This Species On My Polar Cruise?

The Little “Blue” Penguin is the smallest species of penguin. Standing only 33 cm tall (13 inches) and possessing a length of just 43 cm (17 inches), this tiny penguin calls Australia and New Zealand home. It’s more common that New Zealanders will refer to them as little blue penguins, due to the color of their feathers. Another name commonly given to the species is the Fairy Penguin.

Little Blue Penguins do not migrate.  They do not live in Antarctica or even in sub-Antarctic islands like South Georgia Island.  Therefore, they are not a species you will be likely to encounter on an Antarctic polar cruise or holiday.

What Is A Baby Penguin Called?

Newborn baby penguins are called “chicks.”  Other words used for describing baby penguins are “nestling” or “hatchling.”

Many people will refer to them as “baby penguins.”  Another term used is “young penguins.”

Facts About Cute Baby Penguin Chicks:

  • Assembled groups of baby penguin chicks are called “crèches.”  This is a French word.  The purpose of crèches is to protect the chicks from predators, while also keeping them warm.  Often baby penguin parents are hunting for food and these chicks may be left in crèches.
  • Most baby penguin eggs are incubated (kept safe and warm until ready to hatch) by both the male and the female.  However, the Emperor Penguin male is solely responsible for incubation while the female feeds so that she can be ready to give regurgitated food to the newly hatched chick.
Gentoo Penguins and chick

Gentoo Penguin and Chick

  • Only King Penguins and Emperor Penguins lay a single egg during each breeding season.  All other penguin species lay two eggs.
  • Baby penguin chicks will use their beaks to break through the shell once they are ready to hatch.  This can take up to three days.
  • Baby penguin hatchlings have a unique call that the parents can identify.
  • Newly hatched baby penguin chicks have especially soft and fluffy feathers designed to keep them warmer than adults.  Even with all this cuddly down, the chicks mainly rely on Mom, Dad, and each other for warmth.
  • Baby Emperor penguin chicks sometimes receive a special “milk” secreted by dad’s esophagus if mom hasn’t returned from her two-month fishing and fattening up spree.
  • Once momma Emperor Penguin arrives, both her and daddy penguin will take turns hunting fish, krill, and small crustaceans in the ocean.  They will partially digest the food in their special stomachs, then regurgitate it to the babies.
  • Baby penguin chicks will get quite loud and vocal when they are hungry.
  • Eventually, baby penguin chicks will get to the fledging stage and will go hunting with parents soon thereafter.
  • Baby penguin chicks may look quite cute, but they will grow into excellent hunters.
Gentoo penguins chick

Gentoo Penguin Chick

Cool, Fun, And Cute:  Penguin Facts For Kids:

  • The biggest species is the Emperor Penguin who lives on the sea ice of Antarctica.  They can weigh up to nearly 100 pounds and stand over 4 feet tall.
  • The smallest species is the Little (Blue) Penguin.
  • Penguins are not covered in fur, they have dense small fluffy feathers
  • Penguins are birds
  • Penguins lay eggs
  • Some penguins make nests.  Other penguins stuff the egg between their feet and under a patch of warm leathery skin on their underside called a “brood patch.”
  • Most penguin species lay two eggs.  Emperors and Kings lay just one egg each mating season.
  • Penguins cannot fly
  • All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere
  • Polar Bears live in the North Polar regions so they would never actually encounter a penguin in real life.
  • Some species of penguins like to sled on their bellies in the snow for fun!  However, it’s mostly used as a form of moving faster because most penguins can’t walk faster than about 2 mph.
  • The Emperor Penguin can dive deeper than any other bird on earth at up to 1,755 feet deep (535 meters) and can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes.  That’s over a quarter mile deep!
  • Penguins can eat snow as a source of water.  They also have an adaptation that allows them to drink salt water due to a gland that gets rid of extra salt consumed.
  • The black/white color pattern helps to confuse predators in the water because they look shaded.
  • Penguins can swim up to 20 mph (32 kph).
  • Penguins can see very well underwater, making them excellent hunters.
  • Most penguins live about 15-20 years.  The oldest penguins can live up to 50 years in the case of Emperor Penguin lifespan records.  Penguins spend the majority of their lives swimming in the water.
  • Most penguin species do NOT live in Antarctica.  There are many penguins found in South America, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and islands like the Galapagos which even has a species of tropical penguin!
  • There are 40 species of birds that cannot fly.  Almost half of these species are penguins.  Most experts count between 17 and 19 unique species of penguin.
  • Penguins do not have teeth inside their beaks.  They do have backward-facing spines that help them catch slippery prey like krill or squid.
  • Penguins do have a layer a fat under their skin that is referred to as “blubber.”  This is needed since all penguins inhabit cold waters in the Southern Hemisphere and its oceans.
  • Even though they mostly live in cold places, penguins are warm-blooded with a body temperature near that of humans.
  • Penguins have a gland that puts out a type of oil that they cover feathers with.  This helps make them waterproof and warmer in cold waters.
  • Up to 5000 penguins will bunch together for warmth in the coldest parts of winter.  The penguins rotate positions so that the ones on the outside of the group won’t freeze.
  • Galapagos Penguins are the only species that occasionally venture a bit into the Northern Hemisphere.  Sometimes they get too hot and they have to spread out their wings and fluff out their feathers to cool down.
  • Penguins only sleep for several minutes at a time.  This happens during the day and night.  They can sleep on land or in the water.  Sometimes they sit, stand up, or lie down.

Happy Feet Penguin Facts For Kids:

  • In the 2006 movie Happy Feet, three species of penguins are shown.
  • The main character “Mumble” is an Emperor Penguin – the largest of penguin species
  • “Ramon” is an Adélie Penguin
  • “Lovelace” is a Rockhopper Penguin
  • On June 20th, 2011 – a juvenile Emperor Penguin was found alive on Paka Paka Beach in New Zealand.  It had washed up on this beach near the capital city of Wellington.  The penguin was nicknamed “Happy Feet” by the woman who found him and was soon put under the care of the Department of Conservation and taken to the Wellington Zoo.  This little guy was then nursed back to health and released in Sub-Antarctic waters near where it’s believed his colony lived in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica. 
Adelie penguins

Adelie Penguin

  • Overfishing and pollution are real problems that threaten penguin populations worldwide.  Unlike the film, these problems are still increasing.
  • Penguins really do sing and dance!  It is not the same as it is in the movie, but Emperor Penguins like Mumble use trumpeting sounds to attract mates.  Adélie Penguins like Ramon really use a form of dance-like movements to attract mates and communicate.  They move, shake, and flop around their heads and flippers.

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