Penguins and Puffins | Sunday Observer
Amazing seabirds

Penguins and Puffins

4 October, 2020



Penguins are flightless sea birds belonging to the family Spheniscidae. They live in water most of the time and come to land or on to the ice only to lay eggs and hatch and rear chicks.

Penguins live in the Southern hemisphere and are found in the Antarctica, New Zealand, Southern Australia, Southern Africa and South America. Chile and Argentina are two South American countries where large populations of penguins are found.

The Galapagos Islands by which the Humboldt current past, is the northernmost area where penguins live. Though there is a popular belief that penguins can be found in the North Pole they do not live there.


Physical features

Penguins can’t fly. Their wings have become stiff and have been adapted as flippers to help them swim underwater. Penguins are excellent swimmers. All penguins have white bellies and mostly black backs.

The black and white colouring helps them hide from enemies. When an underwater predator looks at a penguin there and sees the white belly and wings of the penguin it cannot see them well due to the light coming from above.

The black back blends well with the dark water and makes it difficult for predators to see the penguins when looking from above in the murky waters undersea.

Penguins can’t walk well so they waddle. Their webbed feet help them to paddle and swim underwater. The biggest penguins can be around four feet (110 cm) and have an approximate weight of 100 lbs (40 kg). The small penguins are about one foot (32 cm ) in height.

Penguins have a thick layer of blubber or fat to keep them warm.

Their feathers are also tightly packed and this helps to keep them warm too. In addition, penguins have a layer of woolly down coated with an oil under their feathers for warmth. Penguins eat fish and other small sea creatures.



There are around 16 -20 species of penguins.

Among them are the Emperor, King, Chinstrap, Gentoo, Humboldt and Adelie penguin species. The little blue penguins and the Australian little penguin are two other kinds of penguins.

The Emperor penguin is the largest among these flightless birds and the King penguin is the second largest of them.

When it is time for them to mate penguins head for special nesting areas on shore. These areas where the penguins mate, lay eggs, hatch and raise chicks are called ‘rookeries’.




Puffins may look somewhat like penguins but they are totally different. Are seabirds living in the North Sea areas and their habitat ranges from the Eastern coasts of Canada and the United States of America to the Western coast of Europe?

Iceland is one country where puffins live. Small in size, about 25 cm in length puffins live on water. When not swimming they will rest on top of the waves. Puffins have black and white plumage like the penguins and a parrot like beak which has earned them the nickname ‘sea parrot’. They are appearance and behaviour can be comical and this has earned them another nickname ‘sea clowns.'


Swimmers and flyers

Puffins are excellent swimmers and flyers. They can reach a speed of 88 miles an hour and flap their wings 88 times a minute.

Using their webbed feet as a rudder they can dive to a depth of 60 m in the cold North Sea waters.

Puffins eat fish such as herring, hake and sand eels. During winter they may eat crustaceans but they prefer fish. Puffins live in groups called ‘colonies' and their food can differ from colony to colony.

This is because the fish in the North Sea can differ from area to area so colonies in different areas will have different food. The puffinn’s parrot like beak will change colour during winter. It turns grey in winter and in Spring and Summer it will be a bright orange. It is thought this change of colour could be to attract mates.


Nesting and hatching

Colonies of puffins come ashore to nest. They dig burrows in the earth or between rocks on steep cliffs for safety. At the back of the burrow they will make a featherlined nest to lay eggs and hatch them. Puffin burrows often have a toilet area at the first bend and young pufflings use them to prevent the nest of feathers getting soiled. It takes 45-60 days for an egg to hatch.

Puffins are good parents and both parents will look after the eggs and hatchlings. Puffins generally stick to one mate and use the same place or burrow. The female puffin lays one egg each year.

(Sources: National Geographic for kids, KiddleEncyclopaedia, Audobon project Puffin-Puffin Faq’s, Fun penguin facts for kids)