American Oceans

What Do Penguins Eat?

Penguins come in different varieties and sizes. They are aquatic flightless birds that live primarily in the southern hemisphere. But, what do penguins eat?

Their diets vary depending on species, and of the 18 different species, only one lives north of the equator. It is primarily the size and weight of the penguin that determines their dietary preferences.

Also, female penguins tend to be the hunters and gatherers of the family. Therefore, the female penguin consumes more than their partner, often leaving the clutch, or nest, for greater food options.

While some penguins are as small as two pounds, others can get larger, with emperor penguins weighing as much as 88 pounds! So, what do penguins eat?

The Penguin Diet


The smaller species primarily rely on krill for sustenance. Like some whale species, krill provides the necessary vitamins and calories to live in subarctic temperatures.

fresh krill shrimp as part of penguin diet

Krill are small, almost shrimp-like plankton that live in the open seas. This tiny creature is perfect for species like the aptly named Little Penguin


Some of the smaller and larger species of penguins eat squid. This fast and nutritious creature is popular amongst almost all penguins but particularly the smaller species.

fresh squid for diet of penguins

Squid is unique because it has lots of protein, carbs, and cholesterol – ideal for the very active penguin.

It is also unique as there are many different species of squid found in all sorts of ecosystems throughout the world.


Various species of fish are popular with all penguins. Ranging from smaller species like silverfish and anchovies to larger species like cod!

mullet fishes in a penguin diet

Penguins love to fish, and the majority of them live primarily off of fish and squid. High in protein and availability, fish is ideal for all larger penguin species. 

How Do Penguins Collect Food?

The various species of penguins rely heavily on the ocean for their diet. They hunt as they swim and can locate prey thanks to their incredible eyesight.

The adult penguins will immediately eat their food as they encounter it. Often they will swallow their prey whole. 

Adult penguins can travel hundreds of miles searching for food. Baby penguins will rely on their parents to return to the nest to feed them. The parents will regurgitate swallowed fish for their children.  

Unfortunately, much of the hunting grounds penguins use are at risk from commercial fishing and ocean pollution. These issues can force penguins to travel even greater distances for food.

penguins collects and eat fishes on the ground

Though penguins eat mostly fish, krill, and squid, they also rely on other species in the ocean. 

How Much Do Penguins Eat?

The average penguin can eat over fifty pounds in one hunt and often uses it for fat storage. This fat keeps them warm and their calories high so that they can function in often colder conditions.

emperor penguin feels good after eating fish

The smaller species, like the blue penguin, feed on krill, whereas larger species, like king and emperor penguins, feed on fish.

How much a penguin eats often depends on the time of year. In the summer, most penguins hunt every day.

Daily hunting means they can eat upwards of two pounds of food per day. However, during the winter, when there are eggs to protect, hunting is much more strategic. 

group of penguins feed on fish

Often the male penguin will watch over the egg while the female spends months at a time searching for food. While protecting their eggs, male penguins will not hunt at all.

Instead, they survive off of the body fat they accumulate in the summer. On average, a male penguin can lose up to 45% of his body weight waiting for his mate to return.

Final Thoughts 

The penguin is a fascinating sea bird, and its diet can vary from species to species. However, most penguins feed on a steady diet of fish, squid, and krill.

They hunt for their food in the ocean, traveling great distances or spending months at a time in the water. Penguins eat strategically to help them survive the cold winter months and to help feed their children.

During the summer, they will hunt every day to build up fat that can keep them warm and energized in the winter.

In colder months, the females will continue to hunt to store food they can bring back to their nests, while the males will protect the eggs and survive off their summer fat.

Want to learn more fun facts about penguins? Check out if penguins can fly by clicking here.

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