Penguin, a large, flightless sea bird. There are 17 species of penguins, belonging to six large genera (groups). The various kinds differ in size and the markings on heads and necks, but are otherwise similar in appearance. Male and female of a species look alike. The smallest penguin, the little blue penguin, reaches a height of about 12 inches (30 cm); the largest, the emperor penguin, reaches 39 inches (1 m). Penguins are normally quiet birds; when excited, however, they make raucous croaking or trumpeting sounds. The jackass penguin is named for its loud, braying call.

PenguinsPenguins guard their chicks until they can fend for themselves.
How Small Is the Smallest Penguin?

The little penguin got its name because it’s the smallest penguin of all. It stands only about 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall and weighs about 2 pounds (1 kilogram).

Little penguins live in dunes on the shores of Australia and New Zealand. They stay in burrows along the coast. They can build their own burrows, but they also use natural cracks in rocks or old nests left by other birds. Each day they leave their burrows behind to hunt for food at sea. At dusk, they return to land and crawl back into their burrows.

Penguins are blue-gray, midnight blue, or black on their upper parts, and white below. Their heads are usually black, with bold white markings. Rockhopper penguins are distinguished by yellow plumes on top of their heads. Penguins have short necks, thickset bodies, and short tails. Most of them have short, blunt bills; emperor and Adélie penguins, however, have longer, pointed, down-curving bills. Penguins' short legs and webbed feet are so far back on their bodies that they stand erect when on land. Their bodies are covered with three dense layers of short feathers.

How Did Rockhoppers Get Their Name?

Rockhoppers got their name because of the way they hop up steep, rocky slopes. These penguins hop up the slopes with both their feet together. Many rockhoppers live in the rocky Falkland Islands, off the southern coast of South America. People there call them “jumping jacks.”

Rockhoppers need to hop because they nest up to 500 feet (150 meters) above the sea. Having nests up high keeps rockhoppers safe from leopard seals, which often hunt these birds near the shore. Luckily for rockhoppers, leopard seals aren’t good climbers.

A rockhopper’s head is very colorful. This bird has a bright orange-red bill, a yellow crest, and red eyes. A rockhopper weighs about 6 pounds (3 kilograms) and stands about 22 inches (56 centimeters) tall.

Penguins inhabit the coasts of Antarctica, the southern coasts of Africa and Australia, and the coast of South America as far north, in the west, as Peru. They are also found in New Zealand, the Falkland Islands, and numerous small islands in the colder regions of the southern Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Galápagos penguin is found in the Galápagos Islands, on the Equator. This species is endangered because of human encroachment on its food supply and nesting grounds.

The name penguin was once given to the great auk, an arctic bird now extinct. The great auk was not related to the penguin but was similar in appearance.