Adelie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)

Adélie penguin walking


  • Name: Adelie penguin
  • Latin: Pygoscelis adeliae
  • Classification: Bird
  • Origin: Antarctica
  • Lifespan: 10-15 years


  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Aves (birds)
  • Order: Sphenisiformes (penguins)
  • Family: Sphenisidae (penguins)
  • Genus: Pygoscelis (brush-tailed penguins (rump legged))
  • Species: Pygoscelis adeliae (adelie penguin)


  • Height: 46-75cm (18-30 inches)
  • Weight: 3.6-6kg (7.9-13lb)

Adelie penguins are mainly black. They have a black head with a white eye ring and their back is covered in blue-tipped black feathers. Their chest is white, their feet are grey-pink and their bill is red.
The chicks have sooty-blackish heads and their bodies are covered in grey down-feathers. After 10 days of hatching, they develop thicker ‘woolly’ dark grey down.


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  • Chinstrap penguin (Pygoscelis antartica) -LEAST CONCERN-
  • Emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) -NEAR THREATENED-
  • Little blue penguin (Eudyptula minor) -LEAST CONCERN-
  • Southern rock-hopper penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome) -VULNERABLE-

Habitat & Distribution

Adelie penguins live mainly in rockeries on the Antarctic coastline, in colonies of up to 300,000 birds. They spend their winters offshore in the seas surrounding the Antarctic pack ice.



Adelie penguins feed mainly on Antarctic krill, ice krill, Antarctic silverfish and glacial squid, although their diet can vary depending on geographical location. Penguins in general can go through a lot of fish; a colony of 5 million Adelie penguins is capable of eating nearly 8 million kg (17.6 million lb) of krill and small fish in a single day.

Adelie penguins feed mainly at sea and rely on their excellent vision to help them catch their prey (it is unknown how these penguins are able to catch fish in murky waters or at night). They catch their prey with their bill and swallow it whole while swimming. They also have spiny tongues and powerful jaws to grip onto slippery prey.


Adelie penguins are highly social animals as they forage and nest in huge groups which sometimes contain thousands of birds. They are constantly interacting with each other, with body language and eye movements being the most common form of communication.

Although they are not territorial, it is not uncommon for adults to bicker and squabble over nesting sites and have also been known to steal rocks from the nests of their neighbours.

Like all penguins, Adelie’s are excellent swimmers and are able to swim at speeds of up to 45 miles per hour, enabling them to jump straight from the water and onto land. They hunt in large groups as it is thought to reduce the risk of being eaten by predators. The predators of the Adelie penguin include leopard seals, skua gulls and killer whales.


Adelie penguins reach sexual maturity at about 2-3 years old and their breeding season is in the Antarctic summer months of November-December. This is when they return to the breeding grounds from the surrounding sea.

Once a penguin has selected their mate for life, the female will lay two eggs a couple of days apart in a nest built from rocks. Both the male and female will incubate the eggs, taking turns while the other hunts for food, sometimes taking up to 10 days. This will continue for about 2 months.

The chicks have what is called an egg-tooth (a small bump on the top of their beak) which helps them to break free of their egg. Once hatched, the parents will continue to alternate turns of taking care of the chicks, while the other hunts food and brings it back for both the partner and the young.

After about a month, the chicks will congregate in large groups known as crèches and are able to fend for themselves at sea at 2-3 months. The chicks are fully fledged after 90 days.


  • This penguin expels heat through their feet after swimming as they do not sweat. When they are not exercising, the feet turn white as less blood flows to them, helping to conserve heat in the body.
  • The wings have adapted to have no flight feathers and have changed shape for use as flippers to help propel the penguin through the water.
  • The Adelie penguin has a longer tail than other penguins which it uses for steering through the water. They also use it to prop themselves up when sitting on their heels and have their toes buried in their feathers. There is also a gland near the tail which secretes oil which keeps its feathers waterproof.
  • The tongue has backwards facing spines which grip its prey and guide it down its throat. The penguin uses these spines in place of teeth.


The biggest threats to the Adelie penguins are its predators. They have no land based predators as such because of the uncompromising conditions of their habitats. However, they are widely hunted and eaten by leopard seals and killer whales. The young are also targeted by skua gulls.

The lives of Adelie penguins are also threatened by global warming. The increasing temperature of the earth is melting the ice on which these and other penguins live. Over commercial fishing of krill and fish also affects Adelie penguins, as they need to eat a lot of these foods every day in order to stay alive. If there isn’t enough, thousands of these birds will simply cease to exist.


  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

Adelie penguins are abundant in number and therefore do not need many conservation efforts on them. However, there are some groups and organisations that exist to help these penguins stay in such large numbers, such as the International Penguin Conservation Work Group (IPCWG) and the Polar Conservation Organisation (PCO). Some are also kept in zoos and wildlife parks, and take part in breeding programmes.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Cock
  • Female: Hen
  • Young: Chick
  • Group: Colony
  • Adult Adelie penguins have been observed stealing rocks from their neighbours nests.
  • They are the smallest species of penguin found in the Antarctic.
  • They were named in 1840 by French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville after his wife, Adelie.
  • A colony can be made of up to 100 to 250,000 pairs of birds.

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