Penguins are found in the Southern Hemisphere and come in all sizes ranging from 13 to 48 inches in height. The smallest is the little penguin from Australia and New Zealand; the largest is the emperor penguin of Antarctica.

While these birds cannot fly through the air, they are very adept at using their wings to propel themselves through the water. Some can dive to depths of about 1,750 feet. Their dark and light feathers are tightly packed — 70 feathers per square inch — keeping them insulated in the cold conditions of the marine environment where they live.

Chinstrap Penguins

Chinstrap penguins are found in Antarctica and the world’s other southernmost islands. Changing ocean conditions affect their main food source, krill. Credit: © Julie Larsen Maher / WCS

Chinstrap Penguins

They are social animals that live in colonies like this one of chinstrap penguins characterized by noisy vocalizations. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

They are noisy and use various calls to attract mates, find their chicks, frighten off would-be predators, or just fuss with their neighboring penguins. Several species have distinctive calls. Magellanic and gentoo penguins bray. Chinstrap penguins scream, causing quite a cacophony in their colonies.

Today, they are in trouble. They depend on the sea for food and coastal lands to nest, rear their chicks, and molt. Close to two-thirds of the world’s 17 penguin species face population pressures from threats like overfishing, oil spills, and man-made changes to the birds’ environment.

Macaroni penguins are among the penguin species that live farthest south in the sub-Antarctic islands

Macaroni penguins are among the penguin species that live farthest south in the sub-Antarctic islands. They are one of 6 penguin species that have colorful crests of feathers. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS.

Macaroni Penguins

Credit: Julie Larsen Maher © WCS.

Macaroni Penguins

While penguins cannot fly through the air, they are very adept at using their wings to propel themselves through the water like this macaroni penguin. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Here are some ways to help protect penguins:

  • Seafood Watch Lists – Being a responsible consumer is critical. Read watch lists to ensure the seafood you eat is caught or raised sustainably. Through management of fisheries, marine protected areas, and community participation, fish populations and ecosystems can rebound. Preventing further damage to marine environments will have a positive impact on the health of penguin colonies dependent on these habitats.
  • Oil Spills – This form of pollution is lethal to marine environments, including those of penguins. Make sure human activities do not contribute to the problem. Check fuel and oil lines on vehicles and homes for good condition, and do not dump old oil products into drains. Accidental spills of any pollutants remain in ecosystems and have been shown to accumulate in polar regions.
  • Carbon Footprint – Help reduce carbon emissions to slow climate change. Dynamic changes produce rapid alterations in marine environments and within the food chains that are involved. Take action to help these adorable birds survive by making simple changes like turning off lights when not in use or when you leave the room, or using LED light bulbs.
  • Support Conservation Work – Organizations like WCS are continually working to conserve biodiversity and concentrations of marine wildlife. Establishing marine protected areas is important to preserve regions that penguins depend on for their survival.

King penguins

King penguins

King penguins are from Chile and are the second largest of the species standing nearly 3 feet tall. Credit: © David Oehler / WCS

King-Penguins-and-Chick

King penguin chicks are covered in fluffy brown down that is warm on land, but not when wet. The young birds can’t go into the water until they have acquired their adult feathers. © Julie Larsen Maher / WCS

Rockhopper penguin

Rockhopper penguin

Rockhoppers are among the smallest penguins at about 22 inches tall. Their food supply has become scarce in South America. Credit: © David Oehler / WCS

Magellanic penguin

Magellanic penguin

Magellanic penguins leave their coastal homes in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands in the winter and then return to the same burrows every year. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Magellanic-Penguin-with-egg-in-wild

Magellanic penguins leave their coastal homes in Argentina, Chile, and the Falkland Islands in the winter and then return to the same burrows every year. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Black-footed penguin

Black-footed penguin

Black-footed penguins are also known as African or jackass penguins. They have a donkey-like bray and are found on the southwestern coast of Africa from Namibia to South Africa. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Black-footed-Penguin-Chick

Black-footed penguin chicks are covered in downy feathers. As they grow, their plumage becomes a combination of down and adult feathers that resemble a Mohawk haircut. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Little penguin

Little-Penguins

Little penguins are the smallest of the 17 species at just 13 inches in height. Their home range is Australia and New Zealand. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

Gentoo penguin

Gentoo-Penguins

Gentoo penguins look as if they are wearing a bonnet of white where feathers cover the tops of their heads. They live on the Antarctic Peninsula. Credit: Julie Larsen Maher ©WCS

The Authors: David Oehler is curator of ornithology at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Bronx Zoo. Julie Larsen Maher is staff photographer for WCS. Megan Maher is a graduate student and works for WCS.

Source: Mongabay

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