19 Different Types of Penguins Explained

Different Types of Penguins
Photo by PollyDot

When most people think of penguins, they think of flightless birds living on Antarctic ice. But, they are different types of penguins, and do they all have the time of their life on the famous Antarctic ice?

Keep reading because this article will explore the different types of penguins. Before then, let’s look at these gorgeous flightless sea birds.

What are they?

Penguins belong to the family Spheniscidae. They are a group of flightless sea birds primarily found in the Southern Hemisphere.

Although some can be found in warmer climates, they are mostly found south of the Equator, in and around icy Antarctica. Let’s look at some attributes of the different types of penguins.

Physical Attributes

Although these birds can’t fly, their body is tailored like other marine animals in a uniform tapered shape that makes them expert swimmers.

The forelimbs are modified into flippers, the tail is short and wedge-shaped, and the hind limbs are set far back on the body, which is supported on land by webbed feet.

It is pretty easy to distinguish penguins from other birds because they have an upright body posture. This upright stance is evident on the ground. With their body angled forward, they can shuffle, hop or run.

They are different types of penguins; they come in various shapes, sizes, and colors. While some are colorful, most species have a unitary color that looks like a black and white tuxedo. This color combo is a camouflage technique called countershading. 

When they are swimming, the black on their back blends with the ocean’s darkness, concealing them from predators viewing above. While their bellies blend in with the luminous surface of the sea when viewed by predators from below.

Diet, breeding, and adaptation

A considerable part of their lives is spent in the ocean, where they hunt for their meal underwater. Their diet mainly consists of fishes, squid, krill, and crustaceans.

For warmth, their thick feathers help regulate them. Penguins in cold climates huddle together in large colonies. They also stay warm by covering their feathers with oil before swimming. This oil is formed in a gland near the base of its tail.

Penguins huddling together in colonies is also another way these penguins protect themselves from external predators. These colonies consist of thousands and even millions of penguins.

Regarding breeding, penguins lay their eggs and raise their chicks ashore. Both males and females take turns incubating their eggs. 

Conservation Status

The conservation status of most of the different types of penguins is listed as vulnerable or threatened. Some are considered endangered species. One of the biggest threats to penguin populations is climate change. This has incited the occurrence of events like wildfires, storms, temperature extremes, etc., and has elicited an increased reproductive failure in these penguins. Historical exploitation of the penguins for meat also led to the decrease of penguins over the years. Other threats to the penguins’ population are oil spills and competition by fisheries.

Types of Penguins

So, let’s take a ride to the world where birds don’t fly as we examine the different types of penguins.

1. Macaroni Penguin

The Macaroni penguin is just one among the different types of penguins. It belongs to the genus Eudyptes which comprises penguins commonly called crested penguins. The penguins in this genus share a similar trait-band of a tufted yellow crest near their eyes. 

The macaroni penguin has a black face and a red bill with the signature yellow crest common to its genus. Named by the English sailors, the penguin’s bright yellow crest reminded them of ‘macaronis’ – followers of the 18th-century fashion trend where men wore flamboyant clothing. The yellow crest of the macaroni penguin is more defined than that of other crested penguin species.

They are one of the largest penguin species populations, weigh about 6.4 kg, and reach up to 28 inches, with a population of about 18 million.

Their conservation status is placed as vulnerable due to decreasing population. Because they have a dense colony, there is a wide variety in vocalizations, and they have a funky nesting behavior. 

Like most penguins, they feed on crustaceans, krill, cephalopods, and small fish. These penguins can be found in the Antarctic Peninsula and Sub-Antarctic islands of the Atlantic and Indian oceans.

2. Royal Penguin

The Royal penguin also belongs to the genus Eudyptes. It is also a crested penguin. The name of this penguin brings royalty to mind, which is an attribute of this penguin.

The penguin is regal and the easiest to identify among the crested penguin. They are closely related to the macaroni penguin, but the lower half of the royal penguin’s face is white rather than black.

Among the different types of penguins, the Royal penguin is often portrayed as the most beautiful penguin species. This penguin has an orange-pink short and thick beak with a callus on both sides of the base.

They live on beaches or rocky slopes where they have access to the sea because they spend much of their time there.

They can be found on the island of Macquarie and other islands in proximity to the Sub-Antarctic waters of New Zealand.

Their diet consists primarily of krill. They have unique fishing grounds in tandem with their regal attributes. This reduces intra-species competition and ensures that all colonies get enough to eat.

Despite its unique royal behavior, the conservation status of the royal penguin is listed as “near threatened.”

3. African Penguin

The name of this penguin tells you where you can find it already- in Africa. Penguins in Africa? Yeah, I know it comes as a shock considering that penguins are predominantly depicted as creatures that live in cold places surrounded by ice in books and on TV.

Nevertheless, one can find penguins in Africa. But, mostly live in Southern African countries, including Namibia, Angola, and South Africa. 

The African Penguin belongs to the genus Spheniscus. Penguins in this genus are called banded penguins because they feature striped patterns on their faces and bodies. They are the only species of penguins native to Africa. 

Since they are the only penguin breeds on the African continent, they can’t be easily confused in the wild with other species.

They possess a black facial mask and distinctive large pink glands above their eyes, which gives them a funky look and makes them easy to identify.

This patch of skin above is also an adaptation apparatus. It helps them with thermoregulation (keeping the body at the correct temperature). The air cools the blood that flows close to this skin area, lowering the penguin’s body temperature.

African penguins make vocal sounds that resemble that of a donkey. This sound they produce accounts for why they are also known as the “jackass penguin.”

The sound aids them in identifying each other, finding a mate, and asking for food. Among the different types of penguins, the African penguin is considered one of the most threatened species of penguins today, with approximately 40,000 mature adults left in the wild. The conservation status is listed as endangered.

4. Magellanic Penguin

The Magellanic penguin also belongs to the genus- Spheniscus. They breed in the coastal areas of South America. Some of these penguins also nest as far north as Brazil and are occasionally sighted in the coastal waters of Rio de Janeiro.

They share a resemblance to the African penguins. How? You may be wondering, considering the large distance gap. Well, they belong to the same genus, hence the resemblance. 

But, Magellanic penguins have a dark black neck stripe, distinguishing them from their African relatives. This penguin is named after the explorer- Ferdinand Magellan, who discovered them in 1519. Hence the name, Magellanic penguins.

The Magellanic penguins are easily the most populous of the banded penguin species. They travel in multitudes and form densely-packed colonies in bushes or underground burrows during the nesting season.

The penguins are relatively small and grow to attain 61–76 cm lengths. Two black bands between their breasts characterize them. Their diet consists of jellyfish, krill, cuttlefish, and other crustaceans in the water.

Because of their large population, their conservation status is listed by IUCN as least concern. Nevertheless, they are also facing a decrease in population due to habitat loss, the effects of oil spills, infectious diseases, and climate change.

5. Fairy Penguin

Fairy penguins belong to the genus Eudyptula. They are called fairy penguins because of their blue eyes, blue plumage, and tiny nature (no more than 13 inches tall and usually weigh 1kg).

They look delicate and are the smallest among the different types of penguins on the planet. Because they are the only penguins with blue coloring, they are also called “little blue penguins.” 

Their diet consists primarily of small clupeoid fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Fairy penguins can be found in New Zealand’s South Island and Southern coastal areas of Australia.

They live primarily in tiny colonies in rocky and grassy areas where they can make nests. In sandy environments, the little penguin is also known to burrow and dig a nest.

Sometimes in unusual circumstances, these penguins will share their burrows and nests with other bird species.

Their small size makes them prey to a wide variety of predators, including lizards, snakes, seals, and even Tasmanian devils.

Their conservation status is listed as “least concern” because they are heavily protected in most regions nowadays. Nevertheless, human activities like oil spills and plastic pollution still affect their population. 

6. Humboldt Penguin

The Humboldt penguin also belongs to the genus Spheniscus, a close relative of African and Magellanic penguins. The penguin got its name from the cold water Humboldt Current through which it swims.

The water flows from the Antarctic to South America. The Humboldt penguin has a medium-sized body. The penguins range in size from 56 to 70 cm and weigh 5.9kg.

They have large heads, and dominantly black plumage, the base of their bill features a patch of fleshy pink skin, and a black band surrounds their white chest.

They look so much like the Magellanic penguin. But, while the Magellanic penguin has two white bands of feathers around its neck, the Humboldt penguin has just one white band on the neck.

The Humboldt penguin can be found on the western coast of South America, on the shores of Chile and Peru. They are also sometimes seen further north in Ecuador and Columbia. 

The conservation status of the penguin is listed as vulnerable by IUCN. Their diet consists of pelagic fish, Atlantic saury, Araucanian herring, silver-sided weed fish, and anchovies. Another characteristic of these birds is that they are sensitive to human presence.

7. White Flippered Penguin

This penguin also belongs to the genus Eudyptula. Like its relative, the fairy penguin, the white flippered penguin is also tiny. It is about 13 inches tall. 

This penguin got its name from the white markings on both sides of its flippers. The plumage of the white flippered penguin is primarily gray, unlike the fairy penguin, which features a blue plumage. 

The penguins can be found living in caves, headlands, and rock jumbles found on Motunau Island and live in a few small colonies on the tiny islands on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island.

One unique attribute of these penguins is that they are nocturnal, making them the only one among the different types of penguins that are primarily active at night.

This singular attribute makes them quite difficult to observe in the wild since they usually burrow in their nests when human investigators visit their colonies.

Their diet primarily consists of small shoaling fish and cephalopods. Their conservation status is listed as Endangered.

8. Adélie Penguin

The Adélie penguin belongs to the genus Pygoscelis. Like all species in its genus, the Adélie penguins have long-tailed feathers. It is the smallest of all the species in the Pygoscelis genus, with its size ranging from 46 to 71 cm.

The penguin is named after Adélie Land, a territory in Antarctica named after the wife of French explorer Jules Dumont Adélie. Dumont also discovered the Adélie penguin.

The Adélie penguin is considered a fierce hunter among the different types of penguins in the Antarctic food chain, and its diet consists primarily of Antarctic krill.

They also eat Antarctic silverfish and glacial squid. Unfortunately, they are also prey in the food chain. They are preyed upon by leopard seals, while south polar skuas often eat their chicks and eggs.

The penguin looks distinct, with a white ring around its eyes and short black feathers covering most of its bill, differentiating it from its relative.

It boasts a tuxedo look because of the all-black head, white stomach, and light pink feet. The Adelie penguin can be found around the coast of Antarctica.

The Conservation status is listed as “least concern” because its population is on the rise and is distributed widely.

9. The Emperor Penguin 

The Emperor Penguin belongs to the genus Aptenodytes. Just as the name inspires greatness, indeed, this penguin looks massive.

It is the tallest and heftiest among all the different types of penguins. Among all the birds in the world, the emperor penguin is the fifth-largest bird.

The penguins can be up to 44 inches tall and weigh between 22- 49kg. The head and dorsal surface of the emperor penguin are black in color, the breast and feathered around its ears are pale yellow, while the belly is white. Its lower bill is orange-pink.

Their diet consists primarily of fish. They also feed on crustaceans and cephalopods. The emperor penguins can stay underwater for as long as 18 minutes. 

This penguin lives solely in Antarctica and breeds during the Antarctic winter. They seldom set foot on land and nest almost exclusively on the stable pack ice of the Antarctic.

Their colonies are comprised of thousands of penguins who band together to raise their young ones. The males incubate their eggs. This egg is usually placed on top of the male’s feet to keep it warm.

And the males typically huddle together in large groups to keep the egg warm. The conservation status is listed as near threatened due to habitat loss.

10. The King Penguin

The King Penguin also belongs to the genus Aptenodytes. It looks spectacular and is the second-largest penguin after its cousin, the emperor penguin. It weighs 18 kg and has a maximum height of 39 inches.

Although the king penguin physically looks like the emperor penguin, with a white chest of orange yellow towards the neck, they are also different.  

The king penguins have much more silver in the feathers around their necks and backs. There is also a gold-orange patch located on both sides of its neck. This patch here slowly becomes a lighter orange in its upper chest.

Moreso, their chicks are a near-solid brown when they hatch, while emperor penguin chicks have silver heads with black and white bodies.

The emperor and king penguins can also be differentiated in the wild because they don’t live in the same regions. While Emperor penguins solely live in the Antarctic, king penguins can be found in South Georgia, Tierra del Fuego, and other sub-Antarctic Islands.

An interesting fact about the king penguin is that they are known to be excellent divers among the different types of penguins and can reach as deep as 300 meters below.

King penguins primarily feed on small fish, squid, and lanternfish. The king penguins also live in enormous breeding colonies with hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs.

Young king penguins don’t fledge until they are 14 to 16 months old, so you will see chicks in a king penguin colony all year long.

Like the Emperor penguin, the king penguin does not use nests for incubating its eggs. Here, the King penguins also place their eggs under their bellies on top of their feet. Their conservation status is listed as “least concern.”

11. Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap penguin belongs to the genus Pygoscelis. This flightless bird is mid-sized with an average length of 72 cm and weighs around 3 to 5 kg.

This penguin gets its name “chinstrap” from the distinctive black band of feathers under its chin, making it look like it is wearing a helmet. It is also called other names like the bearded penguin and ringed penguin.

Other distinctive attributes of these birds are yellow-brown eyes and a black ‘cap’ and bill. Among the different types of penguins, the Chinstrap penguins are known for their boisterous and aggressive nature. The noise they make sounds like the mix of a donkey braying and a squawking gull. 

To feed, the penguins can swim 50 miles / 80 km at sea in a day to hunt. Their diet consists of krill, fish, shrimp, and squid.

Like the Adelie and Gentoo penguins, the Chinstrap penguin also forms large breeding colonies yearly.

Chinstrap penguins can be found on the islands and shores of the Antarctic Ocean and the Southern Pacific. They have breeding colonies located as far north as the Falkland Islands. It is the most abundant penguin in Antarctica, with 6.5 breeding pairs. 

The chinstrap penguin nest on rocky and sandy areas and build a circular nest out of small stones. The chicks of chinstrap penguins look adorable like little gray puffballs until they experience their first molt. Their conservation status is as “least concern.” 

12. Gentoo Penguin

Among the different types of penguins, Gentoo is the third largest penguin species after the emperor and king penguin. It also belongs to the genus Pygoscelis, a close relative of the Adélie penguin. It attains a maximum weight of 8.5 kg and a maximum height of 35 inches.

The most distinctive attribute of this penguin is the wide white stripe stretching like a bonnet at the top of its head, making it look like it’s wearing a pair of white headphones. They also possess a bright orange-colored bill and a relatively long tail. 

When placed side by side with other penguins in its genus, the Gentoo can be easily identified because it has a red-orange beak, white stomach, slightly orange feet, and a black head. And, of course, the white headphones look.

Their diet consists exclusively of Antarctic krill but also feeds on other crustaceans and fish. Sea lions, killer whales, and leopard seals often prey upon them while many seabirds steal their eggs.

Like most penguins, they also live in large breeding colonies in either rocky, sandy, or grassy locales. The Gentoo penguin can be found on several sub-Antarctic islands, including the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean and the Kerguelen Islands in the southern Indian Ocean.

The IUCN lists its conservation status as “least concern” because of its relatively stable and large population.

13. Galapagos Penguin

It belongs to the genus Spheniscus. Closely related to the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins, it features a black band on its white chest like all banded penguins. A narrow white line also rings the face.

It is known to be the world’s third smallest penguin, after the white flippered and fairy penguins. Its maximum height is 19 inches, and its maximum weight is 2.5 kg.

Just as its name suggests, the Gaalápagos penguin is endemic to the Galapagos Islands and can be found only there and lives further north of the Equator. It is also the only penguin found in the northern hemisphere.

Their diet consists of small fish and occasionally crustaceans. Apart from the African penguin, the only penguin on the African continent, the Galápagaos penguin is the only tropical penguin species.

This species has also developed adaptation skills to stay cool despite its thick plumage and blubber in the tropics. They can be seen panting at their nests to cool off in the severe tropical sun.

With fewer than 1,000 breeding pairs left in the wild, their conservation status is listed as endangered with a declining population. 

A fun fact about the Galápagos penguins is that they are genuinely monogamous and form breeding pairs for life.

14. Yellow-eyed Penguin

The yellow-eyed penguin belongs to the genus Megadyptes. It is believed to be the rarest of all penguin species and the only penguin in the genus Megadyptes and considered the fourth-largest penguin and the largest breed on the mainland of New Zealand. The penguins are medium-sized, attain a maximum height of 31 inches and weigh 8kg.

From the name alone, one can infer a prominent feature of this penguin. Indeed, this penguin is characterized by its very distinct yellow-colored eyes and yellow bands around its eyes and head. It also has an orange-pink bill and feet.

These penguins can be found on New Zealand’s South Island and live in several small colonies on the Auckland and Campbell Islands, Stewart islands, and the Otago Peninsula.

The conservation status is listed as endangered. With less than 3,000–4,000 mature individuals left in the wild, it is considered rare among the different types of penguins.

The biggest threats to its survival are habitat degradation, disease, introduced predators, and the impacts of climate change. They can live as long as 20 years.

15. Fiordland Penguin

The Fiordland crested penguin belongs to the genus Eudyptes. The Fiordland penguin is called Fiordland erect crested penguin, tawaki, or pokotiwha. The penguin is named after the Fiordland region of New Zealand’s South Island.

Like most of its relatives in the crested family, it has a thick strip of yellow feathers extending backward above its eyes.

The penguin is primarily bluish-black in color. Its stomach is white and the bill orange. A distinctive attribute of this penguin that separates it from its cousins is the absence of bare pink skin around the edges of its bill.

The Fiordland penguin is medium-sized, has a maximum height of 24 inches, and a maximum weight of 5.95 kg.

Its diet consists mainly of cephalopods. It also eats crustaceans and fish. The conservation status is listed as vulnerable, with a population of fewer than 10,000 birds.

Another attribute of the Fiordland penguin is its ability to travel far and wide. They are known to travel up to 3,000 km / 1,864 miles southwest of New Zealand’s South Island, nest in colonies within dense temperate forests, and are often seen on Tasmania and occasionally on mainland Australia.

16. Snares Penguin

Another type of penguin in the crested family is the Snares Penguins. Belonging to the genus Eudyptes, they are small and live in relatively large colonies.

This penguin is named after its primary breeding grounds, the Snares Islands. Their breeding is restricted to this island; no wonder they are considered the most restricted penguin in distribution.

Physically, the penguin has a dark blue-black dorsal surface and white ventral surface, a yellow eyebrow crest, and a heavy, orange-red bill. 

The bill’s base is an area of bare, pink-colored skin. They are pretty easy to identify since they nest on only one island.

But then, the best way to identify them when they are close to their relative, the Fiordland or Erect-Crested penguins, is to watch out for the large patch of pink skin at the base of its beak. 

The island has dense foliage, rocky shores, and thriving fisheries, which enables the Snares penguins to flourish in their natural habitat.

The conservation status of the Snares penguin is currently listed by the IUCN as vulnerable with a stable population. 

Its diet consists of krill, small fishes, and cephalopods. One unique attribute of this penguin is the way it communicates. It usually communicates by pumping its chest to attract mates and bows regularly to its partners and children.

17. Erect-Crested Penguin

Erect-crested penguin also belongs to the genus Eudyptes. In the family of crested penguins, the Erect-crested penguins are considered one of the largest.

Like its cousins, it has a yellow feather stripe above its eyes that extends from its bill. But then, unlike its cousins, the Erect-crested penguin can move these yellow crest feathers.

As the name suggests, this penguin is the only crested penguin capable of raising and lowering its chest. The scientist knows not much about the erect-crested penguin besides its breeding habits. 

Biologists believe they feed primarily on squid and krill, but more research is needed to comprehend what the species does when it leaves shore.

They can be found in New Zealand. They generally establish colonies on rocky areas like Bounty and Antipodes Islands and spent their winters in the ocean.

With the population estimated to be around 150,000, the conservation status of the Erect Crested penguin is listed by the IUCN as endangered. 

Just like most crested penguins, it is medium-sized. It weighs 6 kg and 28 inches. It also has the signature yellow crest peculiar to all crested penguins that extend from their bill to the back of their head.

18. Southern Rockhopper

The Southern Rockhopper penguin belongs to the genus Eudyptes. They are relatively small with red eyes, orange beaks, spiky black head feathers, yellow eyebrows, and a yellow crest.

They look like other rockhoppers penguins but do not have the usual patch of pale skin below their beaks and a few black feathers in their crests. Southern Rockhoppers are considered the least musical because their birdsong is very rough.

The Southern Rockhoppers are considered the smallest crested penguins, with an average height of 23 inches and a maximum weight of around 4.4 kg.

This specie typically has spiky smaller yellow crest feathers, which distinguishes it from other rock hoppers. Their diet consists primarily of krill, lantern fish, cuttlefish, squid, and crustaceans.

The conservation status of the Southern rockhopper is listed by the IUCN as vulnerable with a decreasing population.

They can be found on various islands in the south Atlantic, Southern Pacific, Indian Oceans, and some parts of North Antarctica.

19. Northern Rockhopper Penguin

This penguin also belongs to the genus Eudyptes. The northern rockhoppers share a physical resemblance to the southern rockhopper penguins.

Nevertheless, genetic studies suggest that they are distinct species. Besides, the north rockhopper has longer yellow plumes and a more comprehensive eye stripe.

Northern Rockhopper penguins are tiny, crested like all crested penguins, and weigh 4.5 kg maximum. Their diet consists mainly of krill, crustaceans, octopus, squid, and fish.

The IUCN lists the conservation status of the northern rockhopper as an endangered species with a declining population.

 The penguins have no fear of humans and treat humans with curiosity. These flightless birds form large colonies on rocky cliffs and beaches.

Among the different types of penguins, the northern rockhoppers are fond of inhabiting naturally uninhabited islands. 

These penguins can be found further north than their southern counterpart, on the south Atlantic and Indian oceans. Most northern rockhoppers breed on Gough Island and the islands of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Conclusion

Penguins are exotic creatures. They are flightless birds that spend lots of time at sea. They hunt for their food right there too.

As we have seen, these birds come in various sizes and shapes. We have also noticed that some, like the fairy penguin, are colorful.

We also established that the emperor penguin is the largest, weighs 41 kg, and stands 44 inches tall among the different types of penguins.

In contrast, the smallest and lightest penguin is the fairy penguin, which stands 13 inches and weighs roughly 1kg.

Their diet consists of fishes, squid, krill, and crustaceans. In most species of penguins, both the male and female parent takes turns incubating the egg.

We also looked at some physical attributes of these different penguins. At the same time, we established that the yellow-eyed penguin is the most vulnerable, with a population estimated to be less than 7,000.

At the same time, the chinstrap penguins may be the most populated, with an estimated population of 6.5 million breeding pairs. They are also known to be aggressive toward each other. 

Now you know the different types of penguins. Go ahead and impress your friends and family with your knowledge of penguins.

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