Penguins are familiar favorites for birders and non-birders alike, and everyone knows a little something about these amazing birds. But other than their upright posture, tuxedo-like plumage, and preference for cold climates, how much do you really know about penguins? No matter how familiar you may be with penguins, these fun facts will surprise you!
25 Terrific Penguin Trivia Facts
1. There are 17-20 species of penguins in the world, depending on which scientific authority you ask. All penguins are part of the Spheniscidae bird family.
2. Penguins are associated with Antarctica and snowy habitats, but they also live in South America, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.
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3. Penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Galapagos penguin lives right at the equator and may cross into the Northern Hemisphere as it swims to hunt.
4. The emperor penguin is the largest penguin species, measuring up to 48 inches tall and weighing as much as 90-95 pounds. Male emperor penguins are larger than females.
5. The little penguin, also called the little blue or fairy penguin, is the smallest penguin and measures just 12 inches tall and only weighs two pounds.
6. Penguins are excellent swimmers and generally swim 4-7 miles per hour, but the gentoo penguin can reach speeds up to 22 miles per hour.
7. Though they are fast swimmers, penguins only walk 1-2.5 miles per hour. They often jump, hop, or slide along the ice and snow to move faster on land.
8. Penguins dive when they hunt and can go as far as 1,600 feet deep, though shallower dives are more common. Depending on the species, penguins can stay underwater up to 20 minutes.
9. All penguins are carnivores and they eat mostly fish. More than 80 species of fish can be penguin prey, including sprats, silverfish, sardines, pilchards, anchovies, and cod.
10. In addition to fish, penguins will also eat krill, squid, cuttlefish, shrimp, and crabs. Exactly what a penguin eats depends on what fish are most abundant in its range and hunting grounds.
11. Penguins have excellent vision and see in color, with special sensitivity to shades of blue, green, and violet. These birds even see better underwater than in the air.
12. Penguins can live 15-25 years in the wild, and during their lives, they spend 75 percent of the time at sea swimming and hunting.
13. Breeding colonies of penguins can be huge, numbering millions of birds. These birds do not mate for life, however, and a pair will “divorce” if they have trouble producing eggs.
14. Unlike most birds that molt slowly throughout the year, penguins have a “catastrophic molt” when they shed all their feathers at once and stay completely on land for 2-3 weeks.
Learn all about molting: Why Your Backyard Birds Look Different in Late Summer
15. The emperor penguin has the greatest feather density of any bird species, with 100 feathers per square inch of its body.
16. Penguins drink a lot of seawater, and they have a supraorbital gland that filters salt out of their blood. They excrete that salt through their nostrils, beaks, or by sneezing.
17. The earliest fossil penguin is more than 60 million years old. This means that penguins evolved just 4-5 million years after the dinosaurs disappeared.
18. Prehistoric penguins were much larger than modern penguins. Fossil penguins have been discovered that were almost six feet tall and could have weighed 220 pounds.
19. The penguin’s closest modern relatives are petrels, albatrosses, and loons. Ornithologists use DNA analysis to learn which birds are related to penguins.
20. A flock of penguins has several names. A nesting group is a colony, chicks and juvenile penguins in a flock are a creche, and groups of adult penguins are huddles or waddles.
21. Penguins are so beloved that they have two official holidays to celebrate them every year. January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day, and April 25 is World Penguin Day.
22. Five penguin species are endangered, and eight others have severely declining populations. Strong conservation measures are essential to protect penguins.
23. The yellow-eyed penguin in New Zealand is the most endangered penguin. There are believed to be as few as 2,500-3,500 of these birds left in the world.
24. Penguins face many threats today, including oil spills and marine pollution, overfishing of their hunting areas, climate change, and invasive species that threaten their nests and chicks.
25. We can help penguins in many ways, from reducing our carbon footprints to eating fish responsibly to adopting captive penguins at zoos and aquariums to support penguin programs.