Exploring the Fascinating Life of these Baby Arctic Wonders, in Facts, FAQs and Pictures
It is quite remarkable, the challenge and adversity that some animals face in their habitat. In environments that seem utterly hostile to human life, empty and baron, there are animals that have evolved with the skills and anatomy to thrive. The baby penguin is one such animal.
This post explores some fascinating baby penguin facts and offers some answers to a selection of the most frequently asked questions about these wonders of nature.
Fascinating Baby Penguin Facts
Baby Penguins Are Called Chicks
Baby penguins start out their lives in eggs, which are laid as a ‘clutch‘ inside a ‘nest‘. Like many birds, once they hatch, these baby penguins are known as ‘chicks‘, though they are also sometimes called ‘nestlings‘ when they are very young.
Unlike some other baby birds, like baby pigeons or baby turkeys, there is a specific collective noun a group of baby penguins, which is a ‘crèche‘ of penguins. The young within a colony are known to band together for protection from the cold, particularly when their parents are off hunting for food.
As they grow up, female penguins are ‘hens‘ and male penguins are known as ‘cocks‘. There are a few collective nouns used to describe a group of adult penguins. You might hear them being called a ‘tuxedo‘ of penguins in reference to their distinct coloring.
In the water swimming, they are sometimes referred to as a ‘raft‘ of penguins. On land they are often referred to as a ‘colony‘ in reference to the group in which they live, and a ‘huddle of penguins‘ in reference to how populations around the Antarctic tend to huddle together to keep warm. There are other collective nouns you might commonly hear too, such as a ‘waddle‘, but these are the most common.
Baby Penguins Can Take Up To Three Days To Hatch
Baby penguins are not quick to appear from their eggs. When there gestation period is coming to an end they will start to poke a small hole in their egg creating a ‘pip’ sound. Like some other egg hatchlings, like baby ducks, or baby crocodiles to name a few, these chicks have what is called an ‘egg tooth.
This egg tooth is a handy, tough addition to the end of their beak that helps them to chip their way out of their eggshell. It falls off a few days after hatching. Once a baby penguin has chipped enough of their shell away, they will push off the top of their egg and make their way out. This can take them up to three days to create a big enough hole in the egg.
All Baby Penguins Are Small, But Some Are Very Small!
There are 18 species of penguin, and while all eggs are relatively small, some are smaller than others. The birth weight of penguins can vary a lot between the smallest and the largest of the species. The smallest species, is the ‘Little Penguin’, otherwise known as the ‘Fairy Penguin’. At birth, these little wonders can be as small as 2 – 3 inches long and weigh as little as 35 grams!
The average weight of a medium-sized penguin, such as the Magellanic Penguin, is 57 grams when born, growing to around 4-6.5kg when mature.
Some of the smallest breeds take far less time to grow to their adult weight than larger birds. For example, it takes around 50 days for a Little Penguin to reach it’s adult weight, but it take about three times as long for the largest species – the Emperor Penguin – to reach it’s adult weight.
Most other species take between 55 – 100 days to grow to their adult weight. Though they may take longer to develop their adult coats.
Males Are Very Involved In Bringing Up Their Young
Unlike many other animals, male penguins are very involved in the upbringing of their babies. With most birds, it is the mother that does the largest share of the work, but some babies, such as baby pigeons and baby penguins benefit from the care of both parents.
With most species of penguin, the incubation of eggs is shared between both parents. They take it in turns, while the other hunts and rests. The exception to this is with emperor penguins, with which incubation of the eggs is carried out solely by the male. Once the female delivers the egg, it is transferred to the male to incubate.
They will stay with their egg for weeks, losing lots of body weight in the process, while the mother is off hunting.
Out of all penguins, only male Emperor penguins have the ability to secrete a curd-like substance called “milk” from their esophagus. This milk can help feed and provide nutrients for their chicks up to two weeks old, which is beneficial if the chick hatches before the mother returns.
For the first two or three weeks of life, the chick is cared for by its father. The chick then remains with its mother. When its parents are away gathering food, the chick joins a crèche with other members of its cohort for protection.
Both parents feed the chick regurgitated food and adults can recognize and feed only their own chicks.
Baby Penguins Are Very Fluffy
Just like whales, penguins have a layer of fat under their skin called ‘blubber’. Overtop of this they are covered with fluffy ‘down’ feathers and overtop of those they have their outer feathers which are waterproof and overlap to seal in warmth.
You can’t see the fluffy down feathers in adults, as the outer slick coat covers them from view, but baby penguins don’t have their outer coat when they are born. This makes them appear very fluffy with their down coat, but it also leaves them vulnerable to the elements. As youngsters, their down coat is a different colour to the coat they develop later on. It will usually be a single color of white, gray, black, or brown.
All species with exception to King Penguins are born with fine down feathers. King penguins on the other hand are born naked, and grow their down feathers in the first few weeks after hatching. They can’t swim well until they develop their second coat as their fluffy down is not waterproof.
Some penguins get their first coat of waterproof feathers quicker than others. Adélie penguins for example will grow into their first waterproof coat between 7 to 9 weeks. King penguins on the other hand can take around 13 weeks to get theirs, and it averages around 4 months across the species.
Once they have their waterproof coat they can fledge, and start finding their skills in the water. It can take a full year to develop their full adult coat.
Baby Penguins Can’t Fly
Baby penguins, regardless of their species, will never be able to fly. Unlike many birds that are lightweight, with light bones to help them fly, penguins, like emus and ostriches have heavy bones. Their wing bones are also fused together, making their wings more like flippers. This suits them much better in the water than they ever would in the air.
In their environment, swimming is a much more useful skill than flight, which is likely why evolution took this path. Most of their food is in the water, and they have very few predators they need to fly away from.
Baby Penguins Only Ever Have One Tooth, And It’s Not In Their Mouth
The only tooth a baby penguin will ever have, is the egg tooth that it uses to help it hatch. This egg tooth is attached to their beak and falls off a few days after birth. Like most other birds, they do not develop teeth in their mouth. They have a tongue and a bill (beak) to help them eat, as well as some spiny features to their mouth and throat that prevents their food from escaping.
Baby Penguin FAQs
What Is The Lifecycle Of A Baby Penguin?
After mating, the female penguin will lay one or two eggs, most species lay one. These eggs will incubate for about 37 – 65 days before hatching. Smaller species tend to incubate for a shorter time, while large birds such as the emperor penguin incubate for longer.
Once hatched, the baby penguin will stay in the nest with its parents who take turns in looking after the bird. They may also be left in groups with other youngsters called a creche, while their parents are off gathering food.
It can take them a few weeks to develop their first waterproof coat, again it depends on the breed. Once they have this, they can start to fledge, and it averages around 4 months until they are able to start swimming.
Most species reach their adult weight before they reach 5 months old, but it takes them much longer to reach sexual maturity. They will generally leave the colony at this time, and head out to open water to feed. They won’t return to the colony until they are ready to find a mate.
Smaller species reach sexual maturity between 3 – 4 years, but larger birds can take between 3 – 8 years until they can start breeding.
The average lifespan of a penguin is 20 years, but some can live longer than others. Magellanic penguins for example average around 30 years in the wild.
How Many Penguin Eggs Are In A Clutch?
Most species will lay a single egg in a nest, but all five of the crested-penguin species including the rockhopper and erect-crested species lay two. In most cases, the first egg is smaller and will die off. The parent will spend their time and resources raising the second, larger egg.
How Big Do Baby Penguins Grow?
Baby penguins differ in size according to their breed. Baby Little Penguins – also known as the Fairy Penguin – for example, can weigh as little as 35g at birth. They can grow to weigh up to 1.02 kg (2.25 lbs) and grow up to 16 inches tall
Baby Emperor Penguins at the other end of the scale can weigh up to 400g at birth. In maturity they can weigh up to 39.9 kg (88 lbs) and grow up to 45 inches (115 cm) tall.
You can read more about the size of all existing species of penguin in our penguin size comparison post.
What Do Baby Penguins Eat?
Baby penguins are mostly fed a mix of digested fish, krill, squid and other forms of sea life caught while swimming underwater. Some species of penguin fully digest their food before giving it to their chicks, while others regurgitate in a less digested form.
Penguins do not live near freshwater. Instead they drink salt water. Penguins have a special gland in their bodies that takes the salt out of the water they drink and pushes it out of grooves in their bill.
Where Do Baby Penguins Live?
The vast majority of penguins live in the lower latitudes of the Southern Hemisphere, in cold climates. There are 4 species that live on the mainland of Antarctica, and most others live around the sub-Antarctic islands. You might also find them around the coastal areas of South America and New Zealand, and one species, the Galapagos penguin, lives much further north in the Galapagos Islands. There is also African penguin which lives around the coast and islands of southern Africa.
Baby Penguins live in large colonies with their parents, often socializing and huddling for warmth with other young birds while their parents are off hunting. Once they are able to swim, they are usually left to their own devices to head off to open water, fend for and feed themselves.
What Are The Predators Of Baby Penguins?
In general, there are few predators for penguins on land, due to their remote and hostile living environment. There is little competition. Baby penguin chicks do fall victim to some other types of bird however, particularly skuas and giant petrels. These birds will happily raid a nest or pick off young, vulnerable chicks.
In the water, both baby and adult penguins are in danger from larger hunters such as leopard seals and killer whales.
Coastal populations living around New Zealand, the Galapagos and Africa have more predators to contend with, particularly gulls, mongoose, sharks and seals.
Where Does The Name Penguin Come from?
The name “penguin” comes from the Latin word “pinguis,” which means “fat.” This is in reference to the fact that penguins are very stout and plump birds. Though there is also those that suggest the first use of the word originates from the Welsh ‘pen’ (white) and ‘gwyn’ (head).