American Oceans

What Are The Different Types of Penguins

When you think of penguins, flightless birds with tuxedo patterns probably come to mind. While that iconic image is arguably the most well-known, there are more than twenty different types of penguins spanning every continent in the southern hemisphere.

different types of penguins standing with birds

This diverse list features several different types of penguins and will explore the variations and differences in these arctic birds.

Read on to learn all about the many different kinds of penguins and the fascinating lives they lead.

Royal Penguin

Named for the regal, yellow plumes on their heads, Royal Penguins are a medium-sized variety of penguins with white or pale gray faces that closely resemble Macaroni Penguins.

They are easily distinguished from Macaroni penguins because Royal Penguins are about twenty percent larger.

Male Royal Penguins grow larger than female Royals, and young Royal Penguins have less luxurious crests than adults.

When the breeding season begins, these penguins weigh around eight to thirteen pounds, but they slim down to about six pounds by the end.

large colonies of royal penguin together

They settle in large colonies on the Australian Islands, including Macquarie, Bishop, and Clerk.

Galapagos Penguin

While most penguin species live in colder areas, some species, like the Galapagos Penguin, live in more temperate regions.

galapagos penguin located in temperate regions

These birds live the furthest north of any penguin species and spend their lives in tropical climates.

These burrow-dwelling penguins are closely related to the Magellanic, African, and Humboldt Penguins.

You can identify a Galapagos Penguin by the white band running under their chins and the black horseshoe shapes near their bellies.

galapagos white band under chins and horseshoe shapes near bellies

Galapagos Penguins subsist on sardines, anchovies, and other cold-water schooling fish. These tropical penguins mate for life and incubate their young for thirty-five to forty days.

Humboldt Penguin

The Humboldt Penguin is a mid-sized species that weighs about ten pounds and measures around 26 to 28 inches long.

mid-sized humboldt penguin with blackish-gray upper regions

They have a white undercarriage, blackish-gray upper regions, black heads, and a black breast band. Humboldt Penguins also have black bills with light-pink bases.

They like to make homes on rocky coasts and islands in the southeastern Pacific, where they feed on the marine life below.

Their food source comes from the famous Humboldt current, which flows northward from Antarctica and fosters an abundance of aquatic life. It was this current that gave the birds their name.

African Penguin

The African Penguin is another species that does not live in an arctic climate. Even so, these penguins still boast plenty of dense, waterproof feathers that keep them warm in the cold waters surrounding African coastlines.

african penguins with pointed beaks and all-black feet

They have dark spots on their white chests, and each spot pattern is as unique as a human fingerprint. African Penguins are identifiable by their distinctly pointed beaks and all-black feet.

These penguins talk to one another using intricate vocalizations and specific body language. They are known to yell and bray at each other to attract mates, defend their territory, and locate their family members.

African Penguins have funny little bare patches just above each eye, and while they might look strange, these patches help them stay cold in a more temperate climate.

King Penguin

King Penguins are the second-largest penguin species behind the Emperor Penguin. They grow up to thirty-five inches tall and weigh in at a whopping forty-five pounds.

king penguin species with orange-colored ear patches

These penguins are native to sub-Antarctic islands, but they can live as far north as Patagonia.

They have orange-colored ear patches and a thin strip on their upper chests. They form large colonies with hundreds of thousands of breeding pairs.

King Penguins mainly eat lantern fish during the breeding season and lots of squid in the frigid winter months. Their main predators are killer whales and leopard seals.

Chinstrap Penguin

These types of penguins were named for a narrow black band of feathers found under their heads. The feathers resemble a popular style of facial hair.

chinstrap penguin with black narrow feathers under heads

Male and female Chinstrap Penguins look very similar, but the male penguins are generally heavier and larger than their female counterparts. They inhabit islands in the South Atlantic, the Antarctic Peninsula, and New Zealand.

These penguins are prolific hunters and are constantly foraging for food throughout the day and night.

They tend to dive for prey the most at midnight and noon. Chinstrap Penguins enjoy a diet of fish and krill that live close to their breeding colonies.

Fairy Penguin

This adorable specimen is one of the more whimsical species out of all the other different kinds of penguins.

adorable fairy penguin close shot

Australians call them Fairy Penguins, while New Zealanders refer to them as the Little Blue penguin.

Their name comes from their blue feathers and their diminutive size, as Fairy penguins are the smallest penguins in the world.

They will only grow to be about a foot tall and do not usually get about two and a half pounds.

fairy penguin or little penguin with blue feathers

Compared to other birds their size, Fairy Penguins have a very long lifespan that can be upwards of twenty years.

The island-dwelling Fairy Penguins spend up to eighteen hours a day in the water and subsist primarily on small fish, krill, and squid.

Adelie Penguin

You can spot an Adelie Penguin by identifying the white rings around its eyes. It is rather difficult to tell between males and females in this species because they look so similar. They enjoy sliding across the ice on their bellies when there’s enough snowfall to permit it.

adelie penguin with white rings around its eyes

These penguins breed and molt on small islands all around the coast of Antarctica or wherever they can find an exposed rock.

Almost one hundred thousand breeding pairs return to their mating grounds every year. These adult penguins can swim nearly seven hundred and fifty miles away from their breeding site to hunt.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin

This penguin species is one of the smallest crested penguins in the world. They weigh up to five pounds and spend most of their time at sea.

northern rockhopper with yellow eyebrows and red eyes

When they are not swimming in the deep, they nest on islands in the Indian Ocean and the South Atlantic.

One of several Rockhopper penguin species known to man, these birds got their name based on how they use thick-skinned feet to hop around rocky terrain when they come up from the deep.

Northern Rockhoppers have bright yellow eyebrows and red eyes, along with white chests and bellies. They are known for their territorial behavior and their spunky natures.

Yellow-eyed Penguin

Of all the penguin species that live in and around New Zealand, the Yellow-eyed Penguin is the largest.

yellow-eyed penguin with striking pale-yellow feathers on neck

They are tall birds with striking pale-yellow feathers that appear on their necks and around their eyes.

Their eyes are also yellow, and though males and females look similar, males are generally larger.

They have nesting grounds on the coasts of Stewart Island and South Island, along with the Auckland and Campbell Islands.

yellow-eyed penguin breed at coastal scrub

Yellow-eyed Penguins prefer to breed on exposed cliffs or in coastal scrub and mature coastal forests. They feed mainly on squid, red cod, sprat, and opal fish.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Another variant of the Rockhopper species, Southern Rockhoppers generally weigh a little less than Northern Rockhoppers and are one of the smallest penguins on this list.

southern rockhopper penguin weigh less than northern rockhopper

They have similar markings as Northern Rockhoppers, like vibrant yellow eyebrows and bright orange beaks.

These penguins like to nest near rocky shores around sub-Antarctic islands. They split the duty of caring for offspring evenly between males and females, and females tend to lay two eggs at a time.

Southern Rockhoppers are hunted mainly by killer whales, fur seals, and sea lions, while they enjoy eating crustaceans, krill, squid, and smaller fish.

Magellanic Penguin

Native to the Strait of Magellan in South America, these penguins are lightning-fast swimmers who hunt anchovies, sardines, and squid.

magellanic penguin with two black stripes across chests

You can spot them by the two distinct black stripes which stretch across their chests. They weigh in at around eleven pounds and can grow up to twenty-eight inches tall.

Magellanic Penguins can live to be around twenty years old and reach sexual maturity at the age of four.

They tend to gravitate towards the more temperate regions of southern South America, and these birds like to nest in burrows, grassy shorelines, and on the side of cliff faces. 

Australian Little Penguin

You can only find Little Penguins in southern Australia and parts of New Zealand. They have colonies from Perth on the west coast down to the island of Tasmania.

australian little penguin located at southern australia

On Phillip Island, a small Little Penguin colony offers close views of the birds in the Penguin Parade.

These tiny birds only measure in at a foot tall and about two and a half pounds. You can differentiate between male and female Little Penguins because females have thinner beaks than males and the males also have hooks at the end of their beaks.

Emperor Penguin

The Emperor Penguin is the world’s largest penguin, with adult birds weighing up to eighty-eight pounds when their breeding season begins.

adult emperor penguins walking together through winter

They are a long-lived species, and some Emperors can live forty years or more. They are very fat, with lots of blubber to keep them warm in the world’s most inhospitable climate.

Emperor Penguins are highly social animals, and unlike all the other different types of penguins, these birds are not territorial.

They tend to huddle together for warmth and keep each other safe through winter storms instead of battling for mates and territory.

Macaroni Penguin

Macaroni Penguins live throughout the Subantarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula. They have white bellies and black heads with red eyes, yellow eyebrows, and a heavy orange bill. They weigh up to fourteen pounds and eat squid, krill, small fish, and crustaceans.

macaroni penguin with white bellies and yellow eyebrows

There are more Macaroni Penguins in the world than any other different type of penguin. There are an estimated nine million breeding pairs worldwide.

Sadly, warming sea temperatures and pollution have seen a fifty percent decline in the Macaroni Penguin population in the last forty years.

Snares Penguin

Snares Penguins, named after their home on New Zealand’s Snares Islands, spend much less time at sea than many other different kinds of penguins.

snares penguins with yellow crests and large red bills

They range in size from nineteen to twenty-four inches in length and weigh around six and a half pounds. You can identify Snares Penguins by their red eyes, yellow crests, and large red bills.

They prefer to breed in forests from September to January, where they keep their eggs safe amidst shallow nests made of mud and twigs.

Once hatched, their chicks are closely guarded for three weeks. The oldest recorded Snares Penguin lived to be twenty years old, and the species reaches sexual maturity at about four years old.

Erect-crested Penguin

An average Erect-crested Penguin will weigh around ten pounds and measure in at twenty-six inches.

erect-crested penguin with eyes yellow stripe to head

They get their name from the bright yellow stripe that originates over their eyes to form an erect crest above their heads.

These penguins prefer to live on packed ice and the waters below it. They only breed on two islands in New Zealand, Antipodes Island and Bounty Island.

Erect-crested Penguins live anywhere from fifteen to twenty years old in the wild. They mainly eat krill and squid but also dine on some small fish.

erect-crested penguins live on islands

Unfortunately, this penguin’s population totals have trended downward for decades due to environmental concerns and overfishing.

Eastern Rockhopper Penguin

We have already discussed two closely related penguin species so far, the Northern and Southern Rockhopper penguins.

eastern rockhopper penguin on sub-antarctic island

Some researchers believe the Eastern Rockhopper is genetically distinct from those other Rockhoppers.

These penguins breed on subantarctic islands in New Zealand and Australia, and the Indian Ocean.

Eastern Rockhopper Penguins rarely spend much time on land, visiting only when they need to breed and molt in the spring, summer, and early fall.

eastern rockhopper penguin visit the land rarely

They spend about seven months out of the year at sea. They can travel vast distances that cover thousands and thousands of miles when hunting for food before returning home again.

Allied King Penguin

While King Penguins live near Antarctica and South America, Allied King Penguins inhabit islands in the southern Indian and Pacific oceans.

allied king penguin inhabit islands of pacific oceans

It can be confusing to tell Allied King and regular King Penguins apart otherwise because there are no identifiable differences. Even so, the two species are genetically distinct.

Unlike King Penguins, they are less uniform in length and width, as their sizes vary widely based on their diets.

The different islands these birds inhabit influence how large they can grow, and those diets will differ from island to island.

Gentoo Penguin

Gentoo Penguins are one of the most distinct-looking penguin species on our list. They have unique white patches above their eyes and bright orange beaks that immediately identify this type of penguin.

gentoo penguin with white eye patches and orange beaks

Gentoos are native to subantarctic islands, where they prefer to forage, breed, and nest in chilly temperatures.

Gentoo Penguins can swim as fast as twenty-two miles per hour! They are relatively small, only weighing about twelve pounds. They love to eat squid, small fish, and crustaceans.

White Flippered Penguin

The White Flippered Penguin is one of the smaller penguins on this list, with a body length of just over sixteen inches and weighing in at just over three pounds.

white flippered penguin near the sea

These minuscule penguins have blue-grey dorsal feathers and a white underside. They prefer to live in rock jumbles, headlands, caves, and other sheltered areas near the sea.

They inhabit an area surrounding Canterbury, New Zealand, and breed on Motunau Island and the Banks Peninsula.

These birds lay their eggs from July to December, though most eggs are laid in August through November.

white flippered penguin with blue-grey dorsal feathers

White-flippered Penguins lay their eggs in a burrow lined with plant material or in hidden hollows beneath dunes, rocks, and bushes.

Fiordland Penguin

These west New Zealand-based penguins are strikingly tall and boast broad yellow eyebrows that fall around their necks.

fiordland penguin tall broad yellow eyebrows around neck

They have bright orange bills with no skin at the bill’s base. Fiordland Penguins molt and breed in thick shrubbery, deep caves, and dense coastal forests on South Island and Stewart Island.

They have deep red irises and sporadically place white feathers adorning their cheeks. They also have adorable little pink legs and a funny walk, making them lots of fun to watch.

Fiordland Penguins can live up to twenty years and spend seventy-five percent of their lives at sea.

Final Thoughts

Penguins are fascinating creatures, and there are many different types of penguins. The familiar image of the Emperor Penguin is just one of many unique, distinct penguin species worldwide.

Paleontologists have discovered that penguins evolved before the dinosaurs went extinct, which means they have been around in some capacity for billions of years.

Over time they have evolved and split into many different kinds of penguins that we can observe and appreciate today.

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