The penguin is among the seventeen species of seabirds that do not fly, which breed mainly on islands in subantarctic waters and the cold coasts of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and South America, and a few species live in temperate regions. A penguin lives Galapagos in the tropics of South America, and the species differ mainly in size and head shape, as they all have a dark back and a white belly, and they feed on fish, squid and marine crustaceans.
Despite the common belief, penguins are not mammals, as the female lays eggs instead of giving birth. Besides, they do not breastfeed their children with milk but rather feed their young, regurgitated meals such as krill, squid and fish, so it is one of the creatures that lay eggs and similarly feed their young. Most birds have hollow bones and feet instead of the paws or legs of mammals.
It is considered one of the most astonishing animals. This bird is characterised by a unique texture and body, as it is regarded as one of the most distinctive birds in nature. They are known to sing in order to attract the attention of the opposite sex and of the birds that are characterised by their distinctive sounds.
The number of penguins worldwide is estimated at tens of millions, as it is one of the birds found in abundance in nature. It is also one of the birds that cannot fly, but it swims and dives with great skill, it also swims in the seas speedily, and it can swim in icy waters.
Geographical Distribution and Migration
The penguin is a beautiful bird, adapted to aquatic life, is good at swimming and diving, and can swim a distance of more than 30 km per hour with the help of its spindle-shaped body and short hind limbs. Its feet have three fingers connected by a membrane or skin fold (like pelicans).
In addition, a thick layer of fat under the skin helps warm it in cold water. This fascinating bird cannot fly, but it walks on its hind limbs, and its front limbs have turned into paddle-shaped appendages (flippers) that it uses for paddling and swimming.
The belly of this cool bird is covered with white feathers, and its back is covered with black or bluish-grey feathers. Some have yellow or orange feathers on the head, neck or chest (emperor and king penguins), and others have a crest of feathers on the head area. Its length ranges between 30 cm and 120 cm, and its weight ranges between 1 and 40 kg which manifests the great difference between the tiny and the giant ones.
Penguins can live in most species for 15–20 years or more. Still, their lives are threatened, and their numbers are declining due to overfishing, natural disasters such as floods and droughts, water pollution with chemicals, sewage waste, and oil leakage. They are also exposed to predation by some animals and assault on their habitats, nests, eggs, etc.
The following are the most important physical characteristics of this pretty bird:
The emperor penguin is the biggest of all known species, with a height of 1.1 meters, and can weigh more than 41 kg, and the tiniest one is the Little Penguin, which is 41 to 45 cm long and weighs about 1 kg.
The body of this amazing bird is adapted for swimming, and it is pointed at both ends, and it has a large head, a short neck, and an elongated body. Its tail is short and solid, similar to the shape of a wedge, and it also has webbed legs, which give them a straight position on the ground.
All adult penguins are dark on the back surface and white on the belly, with the dark dorsal side blending into the dark ocean depths when viewed from above. When viewed from below, the white ventral side blends into the lighter sea surface, so predators cannot see the contrast between the bird and its surroundings.
How do penguins move?
It may move more comfortably and gracefully in the water. It swims or dives and sometimes travels overland to obtain a nesting area or other penguins or escape from predators. The average speed of this bird depends on its type. In general, it ranges Between 1 mph to 2.5 mph. They have strong but short legs.
Why can penguins walk on ice?
They point their feet slightly outward may increase their centre of gravity and lean forward slightly so that their centre of gravity is as above their feet as possible, which keeps them flexible and loose with short strides.
Because of the penguin’s short legs, we find him swaying while keeping all his weight on one leg at a time. When it is on the ice, it bends slightly, walks with flat feet, keeps its centre of gravity above its feet as much as possible, and the face of its feet is slightly outward, taking short steps and focusing on maintaining its balance and strolls.
Penguin Feet and Adaptation
Their large feet may be webbed to aid in swimming, and they also have claws helpful in attaching to icy surfaces. Scientists may argue that combining short legs and oversized feet makes walking more efficient because it helps raise the penguin’s centre of mass. It reduces heat loss and uses energy less overall. The feet and legs of these birds are more adapted for swimming and diving in the sea because they spend a great portion of their time in the ocean.
Why do penguins not live in the arctic?
The Arctic is a paradise for all birds, and you may wonder why they do not live there and whether they have ever lived there. Although there are none in the Arctic today, there are several beautiful links between the Arctic North and penguins, and the following are some possible reasons why they do not live in the Arctic:
Nest on the ground: They have evolved to breed, nest, brood and raise their chicks on the ground level or in caves. Polar and maybe even humans.
Penguins do not fly: Only flying birds live in the Arctic today. Flight is an essential defence against land predators, allowing the birds to escape attack and nest on cliffs.
Skillful divers: They are the most efficient scuba divers on earth, and one reason is that they sacrificed their lightweight and flexible wings for stiffer, heavier flippers, and these flippers offered penguins the chance to evolve into true underwater specialists.
Competitive advantage: The ability to dive deep and long gives these lovely birds a competitive advantage when feeding in the aquatic environment, shared with many whales, seals, and larger birds.
Food and Behaviour
They drink fresh water, and if it is not available, they can drink salt water because they have a salt gland that purifies and filters the excess amount of salt in the blood and then excretes it through the nasal openings, and some types also eat ice.
What do penguins eat?
Most penguins feed on fish, squid, and other marine creatures. Therefore, they dive to depths that differ according to their types, and tiny ones only sometimes dive to great depths but hunt their prey near the shore and usually dive for a minute or two.
Giant penguins, such as the emperor penguin, can dive when necessary to depths of more than 500 meters for Approximately 22 minutes. Due to consuming large amounts of food, they resort to food-rich waters, provided that these waters are safe from animals that feed on them, such as seals, whales, sharks, and others.
Penguins spend about half their lives on land and the other half in water. Within their soft feathers, a layer of air helps the birds float in the water and insulates them from the extremely cold when they are in cold water. They use their tail and flippers on land to help them stand upright.
They are distinguished by their vertical standing and quiet gait due to the shortness of their hind limbs, nature, and heavyweight. However, they can walk at human speed, climb rocky slopes and jump from one rock to another with ease and skill. Some penguins can ski on snow or ice by descending suddenly and hard, using sliding on their stomachs.
Most penguins live and breed in large groups, numbering between 100 pairs and hundreds of thousands. It reaches sexual maturity at 3–8 years and is considered a monogamous animal.
It is seasonal mating, and when this season approaches, the penguins (except for the emperor penguin) build their nests on the soil, under the beach rocks, or on the bushes in large flocks known as spawning complexes. The emperor penguin does not need to build nests.
During the mating season, most females lay two eggs (except for the two large ones: the emperor penguin and the king penguin, where the female lays one egg), which is white and bluish. The relatively thick shell occupies 10 and 16% and the yolk between 22 and 31% of its weight.
The male takes turns with the female in incubating the eggs for a period ranging between 28 and 66 days. Except for the emperor penguin, the male incubates the egg, provides it with the warmth necessary for its hatching, and places it in the lower abdomen, which contains several layers of fat even after hatching.
Males gather in large groups, each carrying an egg with its feet to incubate. The group members wrap their tight bodies in one mass, seeking the most significant amount of warmth until the eggs hatch and the chicks emerge, characterised by their tremendous appetite for food and their rapid growth.
A few days after hatching, the chicks can regulate their body temperature and remain with their parents until the appearance of fluff and feathers. Most penguin species live about 7 to 10 weeks, compared to about 15 months for king penguin chicks.
Types of Penguins
Scientists agree that there are at least 16 species of penguins:
African black-legged are the only specie in Africa and live only in South Africa and Namibia. They use annoying chirping sounds to identify each other, find a mate, and order food.
Northern Rockhopper Penguins
Native to Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island, these little birds live on uninhabited islands, have little fear of humans and are curious about them.
Native to the frozen and cold islands in the South Atlantic, particularly the Falkland Islands, these ones are stunningly beautiful, their chicks are of a general brown colour, and they are prettier when they get older these birds are the second largest species in size.
For many people, this species is the best because Antarctic predators are one of the most ferocious hunters in the region, and due to climate change, these factors affect their food sources, so thousands of these penguin chicks die every year.
Also known as Little Southern, they inhabit the western and southeastern coasts of the South Island of New Zealand. They are the smallest, blue-eyed, feathered penguins on the planet.
They are yellow-eyed, known as “hoiho”, and there may be less than 3,400 birds left of them, and they are the species facing extinction in the near future.
They live on the shores of Antarctica and many islands of the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Not only do chinstrap penguins seem to wear little military helmets all the time, but they are the most typical penguin in Antarctica, where there are nearly 13 million people.
This type is similar to African but has a darker black neck stripe that distinguishes it from its African cousins. They inhabit the southern coasts of South America and may sometimes live as far north as Brazil. Unlike their African counterparts, Magellanic actively hunt jellyfish.
Southern Rockhopper Penguins
They live in the Falkland Islands and look very similar to other bouncing ones, but they do not have the usual patch of pale skin under their beaks, a few black feathers on the top of their head, and they are cute, but their chirps are very shrill.
The most abundant species in the world, it is more than all other penguins combined, as there are approximately 24 million penguins in 260 colonies that extend across South America, Australia, Antarctica and Marion Island. Still, they are endangered, as almost all of their gathering places are threatened by human settlements. Huge efforts are being made to protect them in Chile and Argentina.
It lives on the southern Australian coast, has one small colony in New Zealand, and was recently identified as a unique species through DNA testing.
They are the largest and tallest of all species and live on the shores of Antarctica. This type is found almost exclusively on Antarctic Sea ice, making them the only species of bird that never set foot on land.
They are unusual birds living in open coastal forests on small islands around the South Island of New Zealand. The primary method of communication between them is to pump the chest to attract mates and bow regularly to their partners and children.
Farther north in the tropical Galapagos archipelago are the striped ones, closely related to the African but much smaller, as their small size allows them to exist entirely on small coastal minnows and clams, avoiding predators in deeper waters.
She is the one who lives in the Bounty and Antipodes Islands in New Zealand and can swim long distances as she hunts in South America and Antarctica, and they spend much time taking care of each other, and they have distinctive hairstyles.
They live only on Macquarie Island in the Antarctic subcontinent and look like macaroni. Still, they have white instead of black faces, which is why there is much disagreement as to whether they are two different species.
Facts about Penguins
- There are 17 species of penguins, and each species may be slightly different. In fact, all species may live in the southern hemisphere.
- In the course of that, there are as many as 100 million penguins worldwide.
- They have black and white plumage and wobbles when it walks. It also has a torpedo-shaped body that allows it to swim 25 miles per hour through the water.
- They spend most of their time in the water searching for food; however, they cannot swim backwards.
- They are powerful birds and can launch up to 6 feet in the air when leaving the water to return to land.
- When a penguin wants to move quickly across the ice, it can be seen falling onto its stomach and using its arms to propel it above the surface.
- They do not have biological defences against germs found outside cold Antarctica, so keeping them healthy in zoos is challenging.
- They are warm-blooded, with an average body temperature of around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Like whales, they have a layer of fat under their skin called blubber that is covered with feathers.
- They do not live near fresh water, at least, and neither do unfrozen penguins.
- Instead, they drink salt water and have a special gland in their bodies that removes salt from the water they drink.
- They mate for life, and during the mating season, the penguins head to the private nesting areas on the beach.
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