Be Your Own Birder

How Aware of Penguins Are You?

They’re instantly recognizable with their upright posture, tuxedo-like plumage, waddling gait, and inimitable demeanor. They’re swimming specialists, but can’t fly. They’re beloved by birders and non-birders alike. They’re penguins.

Emperor Penguins – Photo by Christopher Michel

You may be aware of all these basic facts – and even a few more unusual tidbits – but how aware of penguins are you really? Did you know…

  • There are 18 (or maybe 17, depending on which ornithological authority you consult) different species of penguin, and they all belong to the family Spheniscidae.
  • Thirteen penguin species have declining populations and are considered near threatened, vulnerable, or, with five species, officially endangered.
  • Wild penguins are found on four different continents – South America, Australia, Africa, and Antarctica. In zoos and marine parks, these birds are also found in North America, Europe, and Asia.
  • The African penguin is the first penguin species to have been described by Europeans, noted in crew logs during Vasco de Gama’s voyage around Africa to India in 1497.
  • The Galapagos penguin can actually be sighted in the northern hemisphere as it hunts, but all other penguins are found solely in the southern hemisphere.
  • Penguins are the fastest swimming, deepest diving birds in the world, and can swim up to 25 miles per hour and stay underwater up to 20 minutes per dive (depending on the penguin species).
  • Different species dive to different depths, but the deepest dives are made by emperor penguins, as deep as 1,850 feet below the water’s surface. Most dives, however, are much shallower.
  • Fossil records have revealed penguins up to 66 million years ago, when dinosaurs still lived. This means a penguin ancestor survived the cataclysm that killed the dinosaurs.
  • Penguins hunt all their food in the sea, but they eat more than fish. Depending on the penguin, they also eat krill, crabs, squid, and crustaceans.
  • These birds can live up to 30 years in the wild (depending on the species). Mortality is high among chicks, however, and up to 90 percent of penguins die before they reach one year old.
  • Penguins spend 75 percent of their lives at sea, and only come onto land to breed and molt. When they molt, they lose all their feathers at once and can’t hunt until the feathers regrow.

Most importantly, are you aware that penguins have two fun holidays to celebrate them? January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day, and April 25 is World Penguin Day! Of course, it’s always a good day to celebrate penguins!

Gentoo Penguins – Photo by Liam Quinn

Learn even more and raise your penguin awareness with Penguin-Pedia!

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