April 25th is “World Penguin Day”, undoubtedly the world’s most popular bird – think of Happy Feet, March of the Penguins, Pingu just to name a few uses in popular culture. These charismatic flightless birds are funny to watch on land but are graceful and rapid in water. They occur only in the seas of the Southern hemisphere; there are seventeen species of penguin ranging from the Galapagos to Antarctica.
Penguins are found in Antarctica, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, the Falkland Islands, and the Galapagos Islands. Volunteer Point on the Falkland Islands is the world’s largest accessible king penguin colony with 1000 pairs of breeding penguins.
Unlike many other penguins which get around obstacles by sliding on their bellies, Rockhoppers will try to jump over them as their name suggests. Rockhoppers are the smallest of the Falkland penguins and they come to the Islands to breed in October. 70% of the world’s Rockhopper population is in the Falklands.
The macaroni penguin is probably the most abundant penguin species in the world; the estimated world population exceeds 11 million pairs.
The gentoo penguin is the third largest species of penguin after the emperor and king penguin.
Magellanic penguins ( named after Ferdinand Magellan) are also known in the Falklands as the jackass penguin because of their braying call. They arrive in September but leave in April to migrate as far as Brazil. They breed in underground burrows, several meters deep, providing effective protection from predators and the harsh weather.
The Galapagos Penguin is the only penguin specie that ventures north of the equator in the wild.
Penguins spend 75% of their life at sea and can drink sea water as well as dive to a depth of 565 meters. Deeper than any other bird. Penguins are good listeners and can find a family member in a crowd of 80,000.
Why April 25th is World Penguin Day? This is roughly the date of this amazing creatures annual northward migration. Some twenty years ago McMurdo Station in Antarctica noticed that on the 25th of April every year is when the Adelie penguins near the base would begin their annual northward migration. Adelies will migrate away from Antarctica proper in the fall season and won’t return to their snowy colonies until the following spring. Each fall when the sun hits a certain angle low in the sky the Adelies en mass dive into the frigid waters answering their nature’s call to migrate. Although not a migration in the literal sense they will swim north a few hundred miles where they will stay among the floating icebergs that act as Adelie islands, feasting on krill and other penguin delicacies.