One of the defining characteristics that the majority of people think of when they think of birds is that ability to fly, soaring majestically through the skies. However, penguins are unable to fly and they are often seen swimming underwater in their quest for fish or awkwardly waddling across the frozen, icy tundra of the Antarctica. This may leave some to ask if they are actually birds.
The answer to that would be yes, as in zoological terms penguins are classified as birds (Aves). Penguins are members of the Spheniscidae family, which is an order of flightless birds that live in the southern hemisphere of Earth. They share all of the common traits that birds are characterized as having.
Penguins posses toothless beaked jaws and lay hard-shelled eggs that their young hatch out of. They also have feathers, which are comparatively short and stiff when compared to other birds. This is because penguins need their feathers to overlap in order to form a thick yet smooth layer which traps air underneath it. In turn, this makes it so they have a type of built-in insulation system to protect them from freezing temperatures.
Penguins are also warm-blooded, have a four-chambered heart and a lightweight skeleton. Much like their feathers, the wings of penguins have also evolved over time to suit the environment that they live in. They used their wings to propel themselves through the water instead of the air in order to hunt fish.
More Information on Penguins
Most people think of penguins as living in the Antarctic and having a black and white color pattern. However, species of penguins live all over the southern hemisphere and not just in the southernmost continent. They are also found in places that are more temperate weather wise like the southern edges of Africa, Australia, and South America, as well as the famed Galapagos Islands located close to the equator. Penguins also come in shades of blue, grey, orange and yellow, along with certain species having brightly colored feathers.
There are currently 17 different species of penguins on Earth, 18 if counting the White-flippered penguin, which is considered a subspecies of the Little Penguin. However, only the Adelie, Chinstrap, Emperor and Gentoo Penguins are true Antarctic species that breed on or near the continent.
There are then three Sub-Antarctic species of penguins whose farthest south is the sub-Antarctic islands. These are the King, Macaroni and Rockhopper Penguins. Northern Chile and Peru is home to the Humboldt Penguin, while Southern Chile and Argentina are mostly home to the Magellanic Penguin.
Meanwhile, the African Penguin is only found in Namibia and South Africa, while the aptly named Galapagos Penguin can only be seen in the Galapagos Islands, located west of Ecuador in the Pacific Ocean. The remaining species of penguins, like the Erect-crested, Fiordland, Little, Rockhopper, Royal Snares and Yellow-eyed are found in Australia, New Zealand, and a number of small islands scattered around the Southern hemisphere.