Baby Penguin Facts

11 Baby Penguin Facts: Life in the Antarctic Nursery

Step into the world of baby penguins, where these adorable little creatures steal the show with their playful antics and irresistible charm. Q: What are baby penguins called? You can refer to baby penguins as penguin chicks.

Penguins build nests, lay eggs, and incubate them till penguin chicks hatch. While penguins are captivating, their offspring take cuteness to a new level. 

This article describes some baby penguin species and interesting facts about them.

For more reading about these amazing birds, check out our penguin facts and penguin quotes.

Descriptions of 5 baby penguin species 

Emperor baby penguin 

Emperor baby penguin
Photo by Vladimir Blyufer

Emperor penguin eggs hatch after 65 days of incubation. They are featherless during the first few weeks of their lives. However, they look just like adult emperor penguins as their feathers grow, but with different color variations. Emperor penguin chicks have white patches of feathers around their chin, throat, and ear area, unlike the standard black color of adult emperor penguins. 

The rest of their body is usually grayish-blue, with black heads. Although there was an occasion when the penguin eggs hatched into an all-white chick, it was not a case of albinism because it didn’t have pink eyes.

When the emperor penguin chick hatches, it weighs about 315 grams. Sadly, not all emperor penguin chicks survive and live long, with only 20% surviving their first year.

Baby penguins live with their parents in colonies in their Southern Hemisphere home. To get their parents' attention for food, emperor baby penguins use a frequency-modulated whistle.

King penguin chicks 

An adult king penguin with a group of nearly fully grown chicks
An adult king penguin with a group of nearly fully grown chicks. Photo: iStock

After King penguins mate, the female penguin lays a greenish-white egg in November or December. The male penguin places the egg on his feet, directly under a pouch of belly flesh, to keep the egg warm and incubate it for 54 days.

When the king penguin egg hatches, it weighs 240 grams. King penguin chicks have brown plumages that confuse people into thinking they are another species. They have fluffy feathers that look like wool but only get their full colors once they are three years old. Over time, they molt and grow new feathers that resemble adult plumages.

Their wooly feathers are an excellent insulator on land but are poor insulation when wet. King penguin chicks become independent after 14 to 16 months of being under their parents' wings. Juvenile king penguin chicks reach reproductive maturity at 3 to 5 years.

Adelie penguin chicks

Adelie penguin chicks
Adelie penguin & chick. Photo: iStock

Adelie penguins lay two eggs and incubate them for 34 days. Adelie penguin chicks hatch fully covered in layers of fine feathers, usually found under tougher outer feathers. The color is typically silverish-gray but with a darker shade on the head. 

After ten days of being alive, the baby penguins molt into a new set of dark gray fine feathers. Baby penguins molt up to three times before they grow an adult-like plumage. Adult Adelie penguins have a white ring around their eyes, and it takes a year for baby penguins to achieve this distinct eye coloring7.

Gentoo penguin chicks  

Gentoo penguin and chicks. Photo: iStock

Gentoo adult penguins select ice-free areas as their breeding spots. They make a nest of stones about 7.9 inches high and 9.8 inches wide. After mating, female gentoo penguins lay two eggs. The eggs, which have a weight of 130g each, hatch after 34-36 days of incubation.

The gentoo penguin chick stays in the nest for 30 days before joining other penguins in the colonies. Research shows that juvenile gentoo penguins require a lot of energy to hatch and a lot of oxygen as each incubation day passes until it hatches1.

Juvenile gentoo penguins are usually the same size as adult penguins. What differentiates them is the coloration of their plumages. Adult gentoo penguins have a black and white tuxedo, with white above their eyes and an orange-red bill. Juvenile gentoo penguins do not have dark throat feathers and white feathers above the eye2

Chinstrap baby penguin

Chinstrap baby penguin and chicks
Chinstrap baby penguin and chick. Photo Credit: NOAA Photo Library (CC BY 2.0)

Chinstrap penguins' breeding season starts in November and ends in March. They lay eggs at the beginning of December, and their parents take turns incubating them. The eggs are off-whitish-cream, with a touch of green sometimes. 

Parent chinstrap penguins form an orderly incubation schedule; each incubates the penguin eggs for 5 to 6 days before swapping over. The incubation shifts reduce to 1 to 2 days when the eggs are close to hatching.

However, both eggs don't hatch at the same time. The first egg reportedly hatches on the 33rd day, while the second hatches on the 36th day. Also, hatching periods vary from one colony to another. 

Each chinstrap baby penguin weighs about 77g after hatching. The feathers on their head are white, while their entire bodies are whitish-gray to brownish-gray4.

Related read: Find out more about the different types of penguins.

11 Interesting facts about adorable baby penguins

Group of baby penguins
Photo by Ian Parker on Unsplash

1. Fledgling is a preparation stage for adulthood.  

There are different stages to the growth of a baby penguin. A baby penguin will go through a molting stage three to four months after birth. This is the stage they become fledglings. They shed all their birth feathers and grow new ones. 

Once its parents notice the growth, they will stop feeding it and go out to sea. During this period, the juvenile penguin has to fast for all its adult plumage to grow properly. This usually takes about a month, after which it can hunt for food.

However, a fledgling gentoo penguin that has experienced a full molt still comes back home, and its parents still feed them like it is still a baby penguin. This care lasts for 12 days after the commencement of their hunting activities.

2. A penguin's eggs hatch between 30 days to 60 days. 

Photo by Angie Corbett-Kuiper on Unsplash

Most penguins’ eggs typically hatch after 30 to 60 days, depending on the penguin species. However, some can take longer than 60 days before hatching. Macaroni, royal, and Fiordland penguins welcome penguin chicks after 35 days of incubation. 

Rockhopper eggs hatch 33 days after November. Snare crested penguins welcome their first penguin chick after 33 days, while the second egg hatches after 36 days. Humboldt eggs hatch after 40 to 42 days. The Magellanic penguin also hatches after 42 days. African penguins incubate their eggs between 38 to 40 days.  

Emperor and king penguins have the longest incubation period. They incubate their eggs for 54 to 65 days, while a chinstrap penguin egg hatches after 33 to 40 days.

3. Baby penguins need help to stay warm. 

Cute baby penguin
Photo by Johannes Schröter

A penguin chick is not born with the ability to regulate its body temperature. Instead, young birds depend on their parents to keep them warm during the first 40 days of their life, especially penguins that live deep in the southern hemisphere. 

It stays huddled under its parents until the penguin chick can warm itself. The extra layer of skin and fat under their belly is a warming blanket. They will develop feathers and blubber organs as they grow up, keeping them warm. 

The fine down feathers trap air between a penguin's body and the inner layer of its feathers. Then its body heats the air, keeping them warm. Also, the more fat a penguin has, the warmer it'll become.

4. Juvenile plumage differs from adult plumage.

Group of penguins on the shore
Photo by Hector Marquez on Unsplash

We recognize penguins’ sharp white and black colors. However, baby penguins have different colorations from their parents. The baby penguin's gray-white color helps us identify it as young. It is even easier to see in the snow because of its gray coloring. 

As they reach the fledgling stage, they will resemble adult penguins slowly. At this growth stage, they can now swim and venture into the water themselves because they can produce the heat needed for survival during cold conditions and can hunt for food. At one year old, their plumages will fully resemble an adult's. 

5. Male emperor penguins take care of the eggs before they hatch. 

Most penguins usually create a schedule of caring for a penguin egg during the incubation period. They share the responsibility of incubating and protecting the egg, also hunting for food. However, it is different for the male emperor species. Male emperor penguins are solely responsible for caring for the eggs until the day it hatches. 

Emperor penguins take home the award of the best father. Male penguins place the egg under their brood patch, a section of the penguin's belly that warms and protects the egg. Male penguins fast for weeks while waiting for their mate to return from her hunting trip6.

6. Emperor penguins and king penguins do not build nests. 

King and emperor penguins are not part of the nest-building species of penguins. They huddle with the egg on their feet underneath their brood patch. Despite not having a nest, they protect their eggs well.

7. Little blue penguin chicks are the tiniest penguin babies in the world. 

The little blue penguin, also called fairy penguin by Australians, is the smallest penguin species. Naturally, little blue baby penguins are the tiniest penguin species in the penguin world. Little blue penguins lay eggs that weigh a maximum of 1.90 oz. The hatched baby penguin weighs 1.2 oz to 1.6 oz. 

Because of their size, they only go on short trips to forage for food. A little penguin may only travel a maximum of 5.5 meters from the shoreline. The female blue penguin lays eggs days apart. She lays the first egg during September and November and the second one about three days later. 

The parents care for the baby penguin for six weeks, and by the 8th week, the penguin chick is now a fledgling. It has molted and developed waterproof feathers and is fully independent.

8. Baby penguins eat regurgitated food.  

Gentoo penguin feeding chick
Gentoo penguin feeding chick. Photo Credit: Liam Quinn (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Baby penguins can't fetch food for themselves for the first three months of their existence. It is up to their parents to provide for them. Both male and female penguins are attentive parents. They take turns in feeding their baby penguins. 

They hunt for food, eat it, and regurgitate it to their baby penguins. They swallow the fish, krill, shrimp, or squid and store it to feed the baby penguins later. Since baby penguins are not old enough to digest whole foods by themselves, parents must provide them in a digestible form. 

The regurgitation process requires the parents to swallow and partially digest the meal. Then, penguins feed their babies by coughing up the digested bits into their bills3, and the baby penguins eat from there.

Recent discoveries show that a king penguin has the unique ability to store undigested food in its stomach. They store food for several weeks during their incubation fast to feed their newly hatched penguin chick when its mother doesn’t come back from food hunting early. Scientists discovered that the king penguin destroys its stomach bacteria8, like a refrigerator, to keep the food fresh.

9. Male penguins can provide milk from their esophagus.

When the mother has been at sea for weeks foraging for food, the male emperor penguin feeds the penguin chick crop milk. Crop milk is a secretion from the lining of the croup of some bird species, like pigeons, flamingoes, and doves. 

Crop milk has little similarities to mammalian milk. It is a semi-solid substance, almost like a pale yellow cottage cheese. It contains high levels of fat and protein. Research shows that pigeon crop milk has more nutrients than human or cow milk, but flamingo crop milk has more fat and less protein.  

Most penguin species do not have this ability which is the preserve of male emperor penguins. The male emperor penguin only feeds its baby penguin milk when food isn’t available. Feeding mostly occurs when the penguin chick has just hatched, and its mother isn’t back yet.

Also, the milk diet is only for a short while. Once the female penguin is back with food, she will start feeding the penguin chick regurgitated food.

10. Baby penguins have a creche.

Penguins are social animals. They live in large colonies and help raise their penguin babies together. Baby penguins join the crèche in penguin colonies after receiving care from their parents for a month. Crèche is a French word that means a place to care for young children while the adults are away. 

Crèche in penguin colonies protects penguin chicks from predators and other adult penguins. They are old enough to keep themselves warm after a month of attentive care from their parents. By this time, baby penguins' appetites are exponentially increasing, and both parents hunt together to gather enough for the family. 

So, all the baby penguins in the colony gather at the center, near the nesting areas. You can also refer to it as a penguin daycare center. Research conducted on king penguins shows crèche is a behavior that protects penguin chicks from harsh weather5, adult aggression, and predators.

11. When can the baby penguin swim?  

Baby penguins can’t swim with their down feathers because they are not waterproof. They have to wait for their first molting experience, where they lose all of their birth feathers and grow new ones. These new feathers are waterproof, and they can swim with no worries. This molting experience occurs when a baby penguin is about four months old. 

Baby penguins swim with the help of an adult. Since they have no experience, juvenile penguins gather in groups and learn how to swim together before becoming fully independent. 

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Pin Image Portrait 11 Facts About Baby Penguins And Cute Photos
1

N.J Actams, Embryonic metabolism, energy budgets and cost of production of king Aptenodytes patagonicus and gentoo Pygoscelis papua penguin eggs, Comparative Biochemistry and physiology Part A: Physiology, Volume 101, Issue 3, 1992, Pages 497-503, ISSN 0300-9629.

2

Davis, R. W., Croxall, J. P., & O’Connell, M. J. (1989). The Reproductive Energetics of Gentoo (Pygoscelis papua) and Macaroni (Eudyptes chrysolophus) Penguins at South Georgia. Journal of Animal Ecology, 58(1), 59–74.

3

Gauthier-Clerc, M., Le Maho, Y., Clerquin, Y., Bost, C. A., & Handrich, Y. (2002). Seabird reproduction in an unpredictable environment: how king penguins provide their young chicks with foodMarine Ecology Progress Series237, 291-300.

4

Carter, M. (1995). HANDBOOK OF AUSTRALIAN, NEW ZEALAND & ANTARCTIC BIRDS (HANZAB). VOLUME 1, PART A, RATITES TO PETRELS; PART B, PELICANS TO DUCKS; Marchant, S. & Higgins, PJ (Coordinators). Marine Ornithology23, 168-171.

5

Céline Le Bohec, Michel Gauthier-Clerc, Yvon Le Maho, The adaptive significance of crèches in the king penguin, Animal Behaviour, Volume 70, Issue 3, 2005, Pages 527-538, ISSN 0003-3472

6

Groscolas, R., & Robin, J. P. (2001). Long-term fasting and re-feeding in penguinsComparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part A: Molecular & Integrative Physiology128(3), 643-653.

7

De Roy, T., Jones, M., & Cornthwaite, J. (2022). Penguins: The Ultimate Guide Second Edition. Princeton University Press.

8

Young, E. (2003). Penguin dads keep their fish freshNew Scientist177(2383), 21-21.

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Photo by Vladimir Blyufer
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