Penguin Habitat: What do Penguins Eat?

Habitat and food of penguins
Almost entirely native to the southern hemisphere, penguins are flightless aquatic birds with wings that evolved into flippers. Read on to find out more about the everyday life of these birds and how they differ with different places.
"It's practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry."
―Joe Moore

Penguins are well-adapted to the cold and marine environment. These birds have a waterproof coat of thick feathers and a distinct layer of fat to withstand the harsh climatic conditions of Antarctica. Owing to their agility, they make excellent swimmers, with some species recorded as able to dive to an astounding depth of 500 meters.

Not all penguins are indigenous to the Antarctic; for instance: one species, the Galapagos Penguin, is found near the equator.

Penguins fall under the umbrella family Spheniscidae. The living species are found in diverse localities under different conditions. The environmental conditions play a crucial role in their diet and habitat.

A detailed description of each species' diet, range, and habitat, will give you a clear idea of how they live.

Penguin Habitat

(Key: The purple color highlighted in the above image denotes the geographical range of penguins.)


King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

Diet

» Fish - Lanternfish mainly of the species Electrona carlsbergi, Krefftichthys anderssoni, and Protomyctophum tenisoni, slender escolar of the Gempylidae family, and Mackerel icefish

» Cephalopods - the Sevenstar Flying Squid, giant warty squid, Gonatus antarcticus

» Crustaceans - Krill and other crustaceans

Fish form the main part of their diet (80 to 100%) for almost the entire year. In the months of July and August, fish make up only 30% of their entire diet. In search of food, they can dive to depths of up to 200 meters repeatedly.

Range and Habitat

King penguins are found in the temperate waters of the islands in the Subantarctic regions, in the northern shores of Antarctica, South Georgia, and other temperate parts of the region. Its subspecies, A. p. patagonicus is found in the South Atlantic.
Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Diet

» Fish - Antarctic silverfish, and fish belonging to the family Nototheniidae

» Cephalopods - the glacial squid, giant warty squid

» Crustaceans - Antarctic krill

Emperor penguins usually dive 50 meters into areas of open and ice-free water of the Southern Ocean, to hunt for prey. Diving at this depth helps them to easily spot those fish swimming against the surficial portion of the bottom of the sea ice. The penguins swim to the bottom and catch their prey. Generally, the Emperor penguins repeat this feat for about 10 to 12 times before reaching the surface to breathe.

Range and Habitat

Endemic to Antarctica, Emperor penguins are found throughout the polar region, especially between the 66º and 77º S latitudes. During breeding time, the colonies are found in areas where ice cliffs provide them shelter from the strong winds.

Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Diet

» Fish - Antarctic silverfish

» Cephalopods - Glacial squid

» Crustaceans - Ice krill, Antarctic krill

Range and Habitat

These penguins are commonly seen along the entire shoreline of Antarctica. A large portion of the Adélie Penguin colonies are found in the southern parts of the Antarctic region. Ross Island is home to around half a million Adélie penguins, with more than 5 million found in the Ross Sea region.
Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarcticus)

Diet

» Fish - Certain types

» Crustaceans - Shrimp, krill

For the purpose of hunting for food, chinstrap penguins can swim up to 50 miles into the sea or ocean, every single day. The waterproof coat of thick, closely packed feathers helps them to withstand the cold waters while on a foraging trip.

Range and Habitat

The Chinstrap penguins make barren and desolate islands as their home. In the regions of Subantarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula, they gather on large icebergs during the winter. For nesting, they prefer solid ground that is devoid of snow.

Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Diet

» Fish - Comprises 15% of the total diet; in Falkland Islands area they feed on Thysanopsetta naresi (species of flatfish) and Southern blue whiting

» Cephalopods (Falkland Islands area) - Loligo gahi, Gonatus antarcticus, Moroteuthis ingens

» Crustaceans - Krill, Squat lobster -- in the Falkland area

Range and Habitat

Penguin colonies are prominently observed on the Falkland Islands, Kerguelen Islands, and South Georgia. Generally, the colonies live on the shoreline, but during breeding season, the penguins shift their nests further inland to build nests between tufts of grass.
Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor)

Diet

» Fish - Certain types

» Cephalopods - Squid

While hunting, the longest distance that they can dive on an average is 2 meters, while remaining submerged for 21 seconds. In some instances, they have been recorded diving to a depth of 20 meters and being 60 seconds underwater. Little penguins spend the entire day in the water, either swimming, or hunting till it gets dark.

Range and Habitat

They are found on the shorelines of New Zealand and Southern Australia. Sightings of little penguins have been reported in Chile and South Africa, but it has not been proven whether or not they were vagrants.

White-flippered Penguin (Eudyptula minor albosignata)

Diet

» Fish - Anchovies, pilchards, other small fish found in shallow waters

» Cephalopods - Certain types in small amounts

» Crustaceans - Rarely

Foraging is done within 15 miles off the coastline with repeated trips.

Range and Habitat

Observed mostly in Canterbury (New Zealand), these penguins live in caves, rock burrows, and headlands. They are chiefly nocturnal, which sets them apart from other species of penguins. They remain with their colony during the day and leave the group only at night, before joining the colony again at dawn.
Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)

Diet

» Fish - Sardines, Cuttlefish

» Cephalopods - Squid

» Crustaceans - Krill

The magellanic penguins hunt for food in a flock and can assimilate seawater along with their prey. The salt-excreting gland present in their body helps them to get rid of the excess salt present in seawater.

Range and Habitat

Magellanic penguins are found in South America and derive their name from their native region of the Strait of Magellan, South of Chile. They are also seen in Argentina and Falkland Islands.

Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)

Diet

» Fish - Herring, anchovies, and smelt

» Cephalopods - Squid (Todarodes fillippovae)

» Crustaceans - Certain varieties

Hunting for prey takes place at a depth of 60 meters. The habitat of these penguins is vulnerable because of the effects caused by the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). During this time, the usually nutrient-rich waters that flow northwards, is replaced by warmer waters devoid of, or containing a minimal amount of nutrients. This affects the production of phytoplankton, which eventually affects the diet of humboldt penguins; they suffer from breeding abandonment, possible malnutrition and starvation.

Range and Habitat

Found in South America, humboldt penguins breed on the coastal regions of Chile and Peru ranging from Isla Foca coast of Peru to Algarrobo in Chile.
Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)

Diet

» Fish - Mullet and sardines (1 to 15 cm in length)

» Crustaceans - Certain varieties in small amounts

Hunting for food takes place during the day, and often, foraging trips are done in a flock. During the time when there is food shortage, penguins hunt for food individually.

Range and Habitat

These penguins are endemic to Galapagos Islands with almost the entire population living in the western islands of Fernandina and Isabela. They are the only species of its kind that live in the areas around the north of the equator.

African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Diet

» Fish - Pilchards and anchovies

» Cephalopods - Squid

» Crustaceans - Certain varieties

Range and Habitat

African penguins are found in the southwest region of Africa, living in colonies on the coasts of islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay. This species gets its name from the fact that it is the only kind of penguin found in Africa.
Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Diet

» Fish - Red cod, blue cod, New Zealand Blueback Sprat and opalfish (all of them typically between 1 to 13 inches in length)

» Cephalopods - Arrow squid

Foraging is carried out at a depth ranging from 66 to 196 feet, diving close to 200 times each day to catch their prey.

Range and Habitat

Yellow-eyed penguins are indigenous to New Zealand, breeding on South Island of New Zealand, and also on Auckland, Stewart, and Campbell islands. They nest in forests, on slopes, headlands, or on the shoreline.

Fiordland Penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus)

Diet

» Fish (in small amounts) - Red cod, Hoki

» Cephalopods (predominantly) - Arrow squid

» Crustaceans - Krill

Range and Habitat

Also known as 'Tawaki', these penguins nest in the temperate forests of New Zealand and breed along the coastline of Fiordland. They are also seen on Stewart Island/Rakiura.
Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus)

Diet

» Fish - Small varieties

» Cephalopods - Squid

» Crustaceans (mainly) - Krill

Range and Habitat

Found in New Zealand, Snares penguins usually nest in forests with their main colonies living on the North East Island. Some of the other colonies are observed in Broughton Island and the rocky Western Chain.

Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri)

Diet

Little is known about the diet of erect-crested penguins, but it is believed that they feed mainly on krill and fish.

Range and Habitat

This penguin is endemic to New Zealand, nesting on a rocky terrain and breeding on the Antipodes and Bounty Islands. Vehement competition for choosing the nesting site is common among the penguins.
Rockhopper Penguins (Eudyptes chrysocome)

Some classify these penguins into three subspecies with a possibility of a separate species. Thus, with no concrete studies conducted so far, the taxonomy of rockhopper penguins is uncertain.

Diet

» Fish - Small varieties

» Cephalopods - Squid

» Crustaceans (predominantly) - Krill

The diet of these penguins changes in terms of food and quantity during the mating season between colonies and over the period of years.

Range and Habitat

With a circumpolar distribution, they live on the islands surrounding the Antarctic Polar Front till the converging area in the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. Extremely low population numbers are observed in the regions of Falkland Islands, Campbell Islands, the Antipodes, and Tristan da Cunha.

Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)

Diet

» Crustaceans (predominantly) - Krill

» Fish - Small varieties

» Cephalopods - Squid

The diet changes with the mating season and also with the location of different colonies.

Range and Habitat

Living in large colonies, royal penguins are found in the Subantarctic islands -- mainly Macquarie Island of the Australian region. They are migratory penguins, who migrate towards unknown areas after the mating season. Although the location as to where they migrate is still a mystery, there have been sightings of these birds in the areas between Australia and Antarctica. While on the Macquarie Island, Royal penguins reside mostly on land surrounded by stones and grass.
Macaroni Penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Diet

» Fish - Marbled rockcod, Painted notie, and a species of lanternfish called Krefftichthys anderssoni

» Cephalopods - Squid

» Crustaceans - Krill (comprises more than 90% of the total diet during the breeding season)

Foraging takes place from dawn to dusk with dives to an average depth of 15 to 70 meters. The dives are V-shaped and seldom last more than two minutes. Night foraging rarely occurs but the dives are shallower with the depths varying from 3-6 meters.

Range and Habitat

Macaroni penguins are the most abundantly found species of penguins. They are seen in areas spanning the Subantarctic to the Antarctic peninsula. These penguins are found in South Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Orkney Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI).

Penguins do not have the threat of land predators like wolves and polar bears in the Southern Hemisphere where they dwell. Studies reveal that they show no visible fear towards humans and have responded in a positive manner when approached by them. It is probably because of this reason that most of the aforementioned species today face a possible threat of extinction. The only way to save this harmless species is by making sure that its habitat remains untouched, so that they get to live a carefree life.
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