Penguins are social birds and live in communities of up to 150,000. Their bodies are covered by a thick layer of fat to protect them from the cold water. They have oiled feathers to keep water away from their bodies. A gland near their neck produces oil, which they spread throughout their body.
Penguins are warm-blooded animals and need to regulate their body temperature. While on ice, they send very little blood to feet. If they’re hot, they open their fins and spread their front feathers. In very cold windy condition, they tend to turn their backs to the wind.
They eat sea creatures and spend about half of their life in the water and half on the land. Since they live in the ocean, they drink salt water and eliminate excess salt through glands next to their beak.
Penguins are very good swimmers but they can’t fly. Most penguins dive to 100 meters, although some can dive even deeper. When swimming, they look like ducks and use their feet to paddle.
Throughout the year, they go through a regular cycle:
October – come ashore to lay eggs. They return to the same place every year.
November – lay eggs. They lay one egg, and then 2 or 3 days later lay another. Depending on the individual species, they may discard smaller of the eggs.
December – eggs hatch. The incubation period for the eggs is 30 – 35 days. Both male and female penguins nurture the eggs during this period. At birth the chicks have plumules, which are later replaced by feathers. The chicks can not enter the water with plumules.
January – chicks start to leave nests.
February – chicks start to shed feathers
March – adults shed feathers. Penguins change their feathers once per year; the process takes 2 – 4 weeks. During this time, they cannot enter the water so are their most vulnerable. They cannot feed while molting, so will live off fat they accumulated beforehand.
April – leave for life in sea. Once their new feathers have come in, penguins eat as much as they can to rebuild their fat stores, then head into the water for their migration north.
May – last penguins start pelagic period (living at sea)
June, July, August – migration. Depending on the species, they may go as far north as Rio de Janeiro.
September – build nests. By the end of the month, all penguins will be rookeries ready to lay their eggs. They build their nests very close together for safety.
In the Patagonia region, there are six species of penguins – King, Gentoo, Megallanic, Rockhopper, Chinstrap, and Macaroni. The most well known types of penguins are:
by Davy and Nancy