Penguins are one of the most loved birds in the world. They exist in the southern regions of the planet. Though most people imagine a minor, white-and-black animal when they think of penguins, these birds actually come in various sizes, and few are pretty colorful.
There are around 19 species of penguins. The smallest one is the little (also called little blue) penguin, which grows to 10 to 12 inches (25.4 to 30.48 cm) tall and weighs only 2 to 3 lbs.
The giant penguin is the Emperor Penguin, which grows to 36 to 44 inches (91.44 to 111.76 cm) tall and weighs 60 to 90 lbs. Some other well-known species are Rockhopper, Macaroni, Chinstrap, King, and the Adélie Penguin.
Considered aquatic birds, penguins spend up to 80% of their lives in the ocean, as stated by the New England Aquarium.
All penguins exist in the Southern Hemisphere, though it is a common myth that all species of these birds exist in Antarctica. You can find it on every continent in the Southern Hemisphere.
Penguins are carnivores; they are dependent only on meat. Their diet contains fish, krill (tiny crustaceans), and squid.
About Penguin Feathers
Penguins possess an immense feather density than maximum birds, around 100 feathers per square inch, and at the base of all feathers is a tiny muscle that handles the feather tightly to the body to catch warm air.
Scientific research predicted from their samples that the entire body would have 144,000 to 180,000 real feathers.
As stated by Antonio Fernandez, a senior aviculturist at SeaWorld Orlando, more than half of the penguin species have colored feathers either on their bodies or heads.
Macaroni and Rockhopper penguins possess orange or yellow feather crests that seem like natural tufts of hair, while the King and Emperor Penguins are designed with orange and yellow patches on their necks, chests, and heads.
Shiny feathers smoothly overlap to cover a penguin’s surface. Their feathers are incredibly functional. They are short, thick, and almost spaced.
As penguins swim in cold water flows and use a maximum of their time in the water, remaining warm is essential. Their feathers form a waterproof barrier within their skin and the ocean.
Their feathers own a soft, hidden downy part that catches air to receive body heat. The outer edge of the feather is thick and interlocks with other feathers to keep water out.
Unlike maximum other aquatic birds, penguins molt all of their feathers at once. The molt takes 3 to 4 weeks and usually occurs in February for young birds and March or April for adults.
Because plumage is not waterproof and the body is not entirely insulated throughout the molt, they cannot go to sea to ingest and lose 3 to 4 kg in weight.
They are limited to shore as they wait for their new feather coat to arrive. It is an extremely tough time for penguins– strength levels are low, there is a threat of dehydration and starvation, and they cannot get away quickly from predators.
Penguins are incredibly scruffy and can seldom look sick throughout the molt.
Penguins have several ways of managing their feathers in good shape to remain as warm as possible. One crucial function that helps maintain their feathers in excellent condition is a kind of grooming called preening.
Penguins have a gland close to the base of their tail known as the uropygial gland or the oil gland, or the preen gland. Penguins use their beaks to get the oil from the oil gland and spread it among their feathers to help adapt them.
It can also help clean feathers from any debris or dirt that they might meet in their tours. Penguins have densely arranged feathers, creating preening their entire bodies a challenging task.
As you may wonder, a few spots on penguins’ bodies (like the back of their heads) might be impossible or very challenging to reach with their beaks.
Well, there are two ways that birds do to tackle this difficulty. Penguins can supply the oil along with their flippers and then rub the tip of their head along the wing edges. Or, a partner or friend can support them to reach those tricky areas.
When birds preen aeach other, it is known as allopreening or mutual preening, and it can be a bonding and courtship behavior.
3 Types of Down Feathers in Penguins
Regular Body Down
Regular body down is a layer of thinner feathers located underneath and near the outer contour ones that You can see
with your naked eye, and all birds own. Down feathers are further classified as plumules and afterfeathers.
Natal down is the primary kind of feather an infant bird will get, and it covers the whole body.
Powder down are feathers that disintegrate into a powdery, ashy substance to cover a penguin’s feathers and keep it waterproof from rain or any other kind of wet substance it may meet.
How do Penguins use their wings?
In reality, these birds indeed possess wings, but due to how these arms are practiced and how they have developed, penguin wings are scientifically considered flippers.
Handful birds have actual flippers like every penguin species do. Their wings are thin, flat, and wide with a long, narrow-shaped, rounded tip. Due to this intense, streamlined form, penguins cannot fly, but they are great, active swimmers and skilled marine hunters.
Unlike other floating birds such as swans, ducks, and geese that practice their legs and feet for primary marine propulsion, penguins rely on their flippers for propulsion.
Penguin flippers have feathers, but instead of the primary and secondary feathers that are significant for flying, the feathers on a flipper are shorter, smaller, and more densely arranged. It helps the wing to reduce marine drag and gives excellent insulation to defend against cold.
Flippers also usually have countershading coloration, which is dark below and light above to help cover the bird in the water to reach prey more easily. This coloration also supports the bird to avoid its predators.
Additionally, flippers are also used for communication between penguins. They will tap or pat each other’s flippers to show their affection, and they can also use flippers for waving or slapping to show agitation, excitement, aggression, or dominance.
When hopping or running, Penguins may hold out flippers from the body for balance. On cold evenings, the flippers can be held close to the body for sufficient insulation and to maintain body heat.
What types of feathers does a baby Penguin have when it hatches?
Penguins hatch from an egg with down feathers covering their body. However, they cannot survive or feed on their own if they were to leave the brood/nest pouch.
This feature makes them “semi-altricial”. An altricial bird cannot control its own body’s temperature, usually due to being entirely or partially featherless. The latter is a specific reason why penguins are not precocial.
While precocial birds are born with feathers, a precocial infant will care for themselves or follow their parents about and discover how to hunt during the initial few weeks of life.
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