What Do Penguins Eat?

By Benjamin Elisha Sawe on October 19 2018 in Environment

A group of Chinstrap Penguins in the Antarctic.
A group of Chinstrap Penguins in the Antarctic.

Penguins are perhaps the most prominent birds living in the Polar Regions. Penguins’ species have been estimated by zoologists to be between 17 and 20 species with some being regarded as sub-species by some scientists. However, there are similar characteristics all across the species. For example, they are all flightless birds with a distinct black and white plumage. Their wings have transformed to flippers since they live in both water and land interchangeably.

Penguin Diet

The preference for food, however, depends on some factors including age, species, and physical location of the penguin, and this is because penguins are highly opportunistic animals with regards to their feeding habits. They sample a wide array of food depending on the availability.


Krill is one of the favorite foods for penguins. They are shrimp-like animals, and they are classified as crustaceans which form a small part of the seafood-based diet that the penguins primarily feed on. Krill are usually found in large groups which make it a staple food for the penguins since large quantities can be found at a given time which is vital for penguin survival.


Penguins also rely on fish for food, and this is especially the case for species such as the Emperor penguin. Fish in this category include anchovies, mullets, silverfish, and cod among many other small fish which the penguins hunt both for themselves and to feed their young.


Squid are seasonal food of a penguin's diet. They are soft-bodied and are favorites for species like the Gentoo penguin who are ardent swimmers capable of diving to great depths, which is where the squid are found. These penguins will increase their intake of squid as they become more readily available for instance during summer. Young squid also make good prey. These are the major groups of foods that penguins feed on. Penguins are very skilled swimmers which enable them to catch their food.

Penguin Foraging Behavior

The ability of penguins to navigate the waters in their habitat is crucial for their survival through feeding. Penguins swim up to 500 miles away from their nesting spots in search of aquatic organisms for food like the Emperor penguin while some like the Galapagos penguin rarely exceed one mile away from the nesting site. Foraging involves a combination of both near surface and deep dives, usually done in small groups.

Protecting Penguins and their Sources of Food

One of the key steps towards protecting a species like a penguin is to safeguard their source of food, and this is only possible by understanding their feeding and hunting habits. Through this, a conscious effort towards safeguarding the ocean by curbing pollution would greatly assist in maintaining the penguin population. There are also penguin rehabilitation centers where bird enthusiasts can give donations towards helping penguins and other sea life, and this is all aimed at ensuring the penguins have a wide array of abundant food sources as any other bird for future generations.

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