Although the term, "ratite" is used to refer to flightless birds, the penguin does not belong to this classification,

Although the term, "ratite" is used to refer to flightless birds, penguins do not belong to this classification, as they lack a bony palate or the flat breastbone of the ostrich and rhea

. While these birds are not known for their flying, they do however swim quite well and spend a large part of their lives in the water. To date, there are about 20 species in the world, which decorate every continent in the Southern Hemisphere, including the tropical Galapagos Islands to the frigid temperatures of Antarctica.

The Emperor

Out of all the species of, penguins the largest – the Emperor – is also one of the most well known. Adults in this species can measure close to four feet tall and weigh between 60 and 90 pounds. This is a drastic difference from the smallest species of this bird called the Little Blue (or Fairy), which stands about 40 centimeters tall and weighs 2.2 pounds.


Another species includes the African (or Blackfoot) which lives off the coast of southern Africa. These kinds are found in colonies positioned on 24 islands situated between Namibia and Port Elizabeth. Curiously, this bird emits a sound similar to that of a donkey.

Rock hopper

The Rock hopper is a small yet aggressive species that utilizes their ability to jump from one rock to another. In the past, these birds were hunted for their oil, but are now protected by Rock hopper penguin law. Rock hoppers, which dwell on sub-Antarctic islands, showcase a black and yellow feathery crest, bright orange-red bill and red eyes.


The Humboldt (or Patranca) lives in South America with breeding ties to coastal Peru and Chile. These are actually named after Alexander von Humboldt – a naturalist and explorer who first brought attention to their existence.

This medium-sized species possesses a black head with a white border that runs from behind the eye to about the ear and chin – connecting at the throat.


Since penguins can spend up to ¾ of their lives in the water, the majority of their hunting takes place at sea. They carnivorous, as they dine on fish, squid, and crustaceans like krill. Since their prey is often located within 60 feet of the surface, they rarely have to swim deep into the water. As they swim, they catch their meals using their beaks and swallow them whole while still in motion. Some species are known to only leave the water in order to breed and molt.

Penguins are social birds and many species stay in groups when feeding, swimming, and nesting. It is not uncommon to see a gathering of thousands of these birds form a large collective called a "rookery," which typically occurs during breeding season.

Depending on the species, mating season varies, but is mostly seen during the spring and summertime. While Kings and Emperors lay a single egg, other species have the capacity to lay two eggs.


Trying to tell males and females apart is not an easy task. All penguins possess a large head, short thick neck, flipper-like wings, wedge-shaped tail, streamline appearance, and webbed feet.

Their body is counter shaded, which means they display a lighter color on their belly and a darker colored back. It is this camouflage that helps keep them less noticed by predators while in the water. Interestingly, unlike most birds, the bones of penguins are solid and not hollow.

They are able to keep their skin dry with the use of their glossy, water-resistance feathers. While it is hard to tell, these birds possess more feathers than most other species of bird with about 70 feathers per square inch.

Each year, penguins get rid of their old feathers through the process of molting and new feathers grow in their place. Some of them also have feathers on their head, such as the Macaroni or Rock hopper.

endagered birds

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