I have always adored penguins and as an avid traveler, I love knowing that some of the various types of penguin reside in specific places around the world. One of the things I research when I’m planning a trip is whether there are wildlife viewing opportunities, including what types of penguin I might be able to see and where. Most times, I have been limited to zoo pengies, but I have also been fortunate to see a few types of penguins in the wild. Here are my favorite penguins and where you can head off to see them.
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This is my absolute darling. Of all the types of penguin, I think this one is the most distinguishable because it has huge fluffy eyebrows. I have always called them Dame Edna Everage penguins because the eyebrows always remind me of her elaborate wing tip eyeglasses. The Rockhopper gets its name from the way it walks, which is a hop rather than a waddle. They are a very sociable species and one of the smaller penguin types at about 15-18 inches high. While Rockhoppers can be found in Chile, New Zealand and the islands off North Antarctica, some of the biggest colonies are found at Cape Bougainville in the Falkland Islands.
If small is beautiful, thy name is Little. The aptly name Little Penguin is the smallest species of penguin and is generally about 12 inches high and weighs little over 3lb. It is most common in Australia and New Zealand. I don’t know whether it was aired in the US, but in the UK we were treated to the most charming TV series about the Little Penguin colony on Phillip Island in Australia where tourists can enjoy the nightly penguin parade from the sea to the nest sites. (The program is called Penguin Island if you’re interested.) One of the other places to see penguins on parade in Australia is at the Penneshaw Penguin Center on Kangaroo Island.
This is one penguin I think I will only ever see in zoos and animal parks. The Emperor Penguin’s habitat is the coldest and most inhospitable place on Earth – Antarctica. I know some animals have a seriously hard battle just to survive, but I really can’t imagine another that goes through the trials of life of an Emperor Penguin. The incredibly harsh landscape is brutal, and the poor old male pengy doesn’t get to eat all winter as he incubates his precious egg, while the missus is off feeding her face. She does come back though and takes her long term at rearing the chick. Can you imagine standing still for 6 months in minus 60 degrees?
We tend to associate penguins with being cold weather birds, but did you know there are types of penguin that prefer warmer climes? Indeed, the Galapagos Penguin is an equatorial bird and is named for its island home, which also makes it the most northerly type of penguin. The Galapagos Penguin was originally a cold water species that found its way to the islands off Ecuador by the Humboldt Current (incidentally, there is another type of penguin called the Humboldt Penguin). Another of the small penguin species, Galapagos grows to about 14 inches high and sadly, with only a couple of thousand left, they are listed as an endangered species. If you are lucky enough to visit the Galapagos Islands, you should definitely keep an eye out for these little beauties.
You may be thinking that these penguins live in the Arctic given their name, but that’s because maybe you don’t know that New Zealand has fiords – and no penguins naturally live in the northern hemisphere (other than on the one Galapagos Island that peeks over the Equator). The south west coast of New Zealand’s South Island is one of the most gorgeous areas on Earth, and (in my opinion) it is made better for the presence of Fiordland Penguins. If you are heading down under, Stewart Island and Munroe Beach are the best places where you’ll stand a chance of seeing these shy but charming birds with a blueish head and yellow eyebrows.
One of the most famous penguin viewing spots in the world is beautiful Boulders Beach in South Africa. It is here you will find about 2,500 of the aptly named African Penguin, a close cousin of the Galapagos and Humboldt species. The African grows up to 20 inches tall and can weigh in at 8lbs. As a mainland penguin, it has suffered at the hands of humankind and when South Africa was first settled, it was estimated there were several million in the 19th century and they now number in the tens of thousands. Luckily, South Africa now has an excellent wildlife conservation program, so the colony at Boulders Beach and other mainland sites and offshore islands are protected from depredation. You can, however, still enjoy fabulous penguin viewing trips in South Africa.
The Adelie is one of the most numerous types of penguin because it is so far away from man! The Adelie is the most southerly penguin and it calls the islands off Antarctica its home. There is a huge number – around 5 million – in the Ross Sea area due south of New Zealand. My favorite thing about the Adelie Penguin is that is known as the “tobogganing penguin,” as it slides across the ice on its belly. Although it looks like a fun penguin sport, it is actually a way to conserve energy and move across the ice more quickly.
This reminds me that I need to take a trip to Whipsnade Zoo to see the Dame Ednas sometime soon! Do you love penguins as much as me?
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