Would you put on your bathing suit and jump into icy water? Would you slide down a snowy hill on your bare stomach? Imagine how cold that would feel! You would freeze. Penguins, however, do this all the time. Penguins swim in cold water. They slide on their bellies over ice and snow.
WHAT ARE PENGUINS?
Penguins are birds. They have wings, but they cannot fly. Instead, they use their wings as flippers to paddle in water. They also paddle with their webbed feet. Penguins are very good swimmers.
Penguins have long, barrel-shaped bodies. They have short legs and can stand upright. Penguins standing up look a little like people at a fancy party. Penguins have dark backs and white breasts that make them look like men in tuxedos.
Penguins have a funny waddle when they walk on land. They cannot waddle very fast. When they are on ice or snow, penguins act like they are sledding or tobogganing. They lie on their stomachs and paddle forward with their wings. Penguins would rather swim than move about on land.
WHERE DO PENGUINS LIVE?
Most penguins live close to Antarctica, in the southern part of the world. The Adélie penguin and the emperor penguin live right on the ice of the Antarctic continent. Some penguins live on the southern coast of New Zealand or nearby islands. A few kinds of penguins live in warmer regions near the coasts of South America, southern Africa, and Australia. Penguins in warmer places need to swim in cold ocean currents to find food.
WHAT KEEPS PENGUINS WARM?
Penguins have short, stiff feathers. The feathers overlap and form a waterproof coat that keeps the birds dry. Some penguins have another layer of downy feathers for extra warmth. Penguins also have a thick layer of fat called blubber.
WHAT DO PENGUINS EAT?
Penguins love seafood and only eat when they are in the water. They swim near the water’s surface watching for fish, squid, and crustaceans such as crabs or shrimp. When a penguin spots something good for dinner, it dives after it.
Scientists have learned that penguins are fantastic divers. The scientists put special equipment on some penguins. They measured how deep the penguins dived for food and how long the dive lasted. An emperor penguin can dive deeper than 1,600 feet (500 meters). That distance is almost the same as 2½ city blocks! Some emperor penguin dives can last as long as 20 minutes. The penguin has to hold its breath the entire time.
Penguins take flying leaps out of the water to breathe. These leaps are called porpoising because a leaping penguin looks like a porpoise. Sometimes penguins leap to get away from seals, sea lions, or killer whales. These animals like to eat penguins.
DO PENGUINS HAVE FAMILIES?
Male and female penguins form couples to raise young penguins. Some penguin couples stay together for years. When it is time to breed, the penguins gather on land in groups called colonies. A colony of penguins can have thousands of birds.
Some penguins build nests and lay two eggs at a time. The female emperor penguin lays one egg. The male penguin puts the egg on top of its feet and uses its belly to cover the egg and keep it warm. Both parents in other penguin species take turns keeping the eggs warm.
Baby chicks that hatch out of the egg have only a thin layer of down. The parents use their bodies to keep newborn chicks warm. Later, the chicks form groups while the parents go off to find food.
Penguin parents feed their chicks for 20 to 30 days. By that time, the chicks have grown feathers and can find their own food. In a year or two, they come back to the colony to find mates and breed. Penguins live as long as 20 years.