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Baby Penguin: From Appearance, Diet, Size & Weight to Feeding Methods (2024)

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baby penguinYou likely don’t know this, but baby penguins form huge crèches.

A crèche is a collective group of one species that collectively raises their young.

These large groups of thousands of Baby penguins are incredibly secure and offer protection for the group as a whole.

Safety in numbers is everything for the baby penguins.

But it’s not all that matters to a healthy and safe baby penguin.

Key Takeaways

  • Baby penguins are adorable bundles of fluff, and they come in all shapes and sizes, from the tiny Fairy Penguin to the massive Emperor Penguin.
  • Baby penguins are born with a layer of downy feathers to keep them warm, but they eventually molt into their adult plumage.
  • Baby penguins are fed a special "fish milk" by their parents, which is a nutritious secretion that helps them grow and develop.
  • Baby penguins are incredibly vulnerable to predators, both on land and in the water, so they rely on their parents and their crèches for protection.

What is a Baby Penguin?

What is a Baby Penguin
A baby penguin is called either a chick or a hatchling. They’re penguins that aren’t yet into maturity, hatching from eggs laid on nests constructed by parents, usually after an incubation period of 40 days.

Baby penguins are very vulnerable to predators both on land and in water. On land, they become prey for such birds as giant petrels, skuas, gulls, and sheathbills. These usually attack weak, sick, or abandoned chicks. A considerable portion of dangers on land is posed by human-introduced land predators: rats, cats, and dogs. Penguins were known to be hunted in the water by leopard seals, fur seals, whales, and sharks.

The complex social and communication behaviors that penguins protect themselves with include the following: they live in colonies, which at times may run into hundreds of thousands, providing safety in numbers. They also make use of vocal and visual display communications that enable them to acquire and defend territories for nesting, recognize mates and chicks, and transfer information about mating.

Baby penguins have calls that are unique to each one, enabling their parents to recognize them since group members of very large colonies are quite difficult to recognize visually. The contact call, for instance, helps in the recognition of colony members and can be detected as far off as a kilometer away in the case of the emperor and king penguins.

It is well known that penguins have very complex forms of courting and mate-identifying behaviors involving their beautiful visuals and vocal displays to get hold of a place for nesting.

Baby Penguin Appearance

Baby Penguin Appearance
Now that we’ve given the basic input regarding what a baby penguin is, let’s look at its appearance.

Chicks are born in a covering of gray, brown, or white down feathers; their appearance depends on the species. Some baby penguins—the king and emperor penguins—come into this world with little to no feathering. Other species have feathering right from birth. Normally, it will take about a year for chicks to get their full adult plumage.

The color and size of the feathers on the chick is strictly dependent upon what species of penguin a baby belongs to. Sometimes an emperor penguin chick usually has a black head, a white mask, and it’s entirely covered in silver-gray down. On the other hand, King Penguin chicks hatch with pale gray or brown plumage, and their second down is dark brown in color.

Gentoo penguin chicks have grey or greyish-brown feathers in the upperparts and white underparts. While Adelie penguin chicks have pale grey, with their heads a little more darker, and second down a sooty brown.

Macaroni penguin chicks have grey down on their upper parts, head, chin, and throat; their plumage is white. The chick of the African Penguins is mostly dark brownish-grey with paler throats and abdomens and pale patches behind the eyes.

Emperor Penguin Babies

Emperor Penguin Babies
Nearly everything an Emperor penguin chick must endure begins at hatching. Here are a few of the basic facts about their early lives:

  1. They’re small: Weighing only 150-200g at birth, they’re tiny next to adult Emperor Penguins that weigh 22-30kg at this time of the year.
  2. Huddling: The chicks of the Emperor penguins, about seven weeks old, gather in what’s called a "crèche." They move close to each other for protection from the cold and also for warmth while they’re still fed by their parents.
  3. Parental Care: Both the mother and the father emperor penguins play very essential roles in parental care. While the females head back to the sea for food, the males are left responsible for incubating the eggs. During this period of time—sometimes remarkably long—the males thin down dramatically.
  4. Beat the clock: As emperor penguins breed on seasonal sea ice, their chicks must fledge before the ice melts in mid- to late summer. This puts young birds in a rather precarious condition.

King Penguin Babies

King Penguin Babies
King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second-largest penguin species, with males being slightly larger than females. Their body mass changes throughout the breeding season, ranging from 10-15 kg when they begin courting to 8-11 kg by the end. These penguins have a distinctive appearance, with black feathers on their backs, white feathers on their chests, and bright orange feathers on their ear patches and throat. Their long, slender bill features a stripe on the lower mandible that ranges in color from pinkish-red to orange-yellow.

King penguins are highly social birds, living in colonies with up to 39,000 breeding pairs. They’re found on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic islands, preferring beaches, valleys, and level ground near the sea. Their breeding cycle is the longest among penguins, lasting 14-16 months, and they produce a single egg per cycle. Both parents take turns incubating the egg and caring for the chick until it’s old enough to survive on its own.

Here’s a table highlighting some key facts about king penguin babies:

Category Detail
Habitat Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic islands
Socialization Highly social, living in colonies with up to 39,000 breeding pairs
Mating Elaborate visual and vocal displays; males produce trumpeting calls and stretch to attract females
Reproduction Longest breeding cycle among penguins (14-16 months); single egg per cycle

Gentoo Penguin Babies

Gentoo Penguin Babies
Gentoo penguins are native to sub-Antarctic islands, where they nest on flat or rocky beaches and beach grass. These penguins are well-adapted to extremely cold and harsh climates, preferring to settle on ice-free surfaces. They breed on many sub-Antarctic islands, with the main colonies on the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands.

Gentoo penguins are the third-largest penguin species, with a distinctive appearance. They’ve a white stripe across the top of their heads, bright orange-red bills, and prominent tails. They can reach a length of 70-90cm and weigh up to 8.5kg.

These penguins are known for their romantic courtship rituals. Gentoo pairs build intricate nests together, and males may offer a female a choice stone to win her favour. They lay two eggs, which are incubated by both parents for 34-36 days. After hatching, the chicks remain in the nest for around 30 days before joining other chicks in the colony.

Gentoo penguins are listed as near-threatened, with a declining population in some key areas. Human activities such as oil exploration, tourism, and fishing pose significant threats to these birds.

Adelie Penguin Babies

Adelie Penguin Babies
Now, we’ll enter into the world of Adelie penguin chicks and their parents. These penguins—the only species that nests on the Antarctic continent itself—are feisty, bold, and never back down from a fight, flapping their flippers at larger predators or, for that matter, lounging researchers.

In their breeding season, spring, hundreds of Adélie penguins gather in areas of rocky coastline to form large colonies. Male Adélie penguins attract females by scraping out depressions in the ground or moving small rocks to construct nests. Next, they go into what’s described as "ecstatic display": neck arching and beak thrusting to try to woo a female into one of their erected nests.

Once paired, Adelie penguin parents work as partners. Both take turns incubating their two eggs and caring for their chicks until they’re about three weeks old. Then the chicks join a "crèche," a group of other young penguins, while both parents forage for food. Incubation is shared by both parents, and chick-rearing once the chick is about three weeks old. The chicks remain in the nest for about 22 days before heading out to sea on their own at around nine weeks old.

Though Adelie penguins can only remain fair swimmers, achieving a speed of up to 9.3 mph, they’re great divers, following their prey down to a depth of as far as 575 ft in search of food. They truly are the masters of their Antarctic habitat—graceful swimming on waves and resistance against freezing temperatures with biting winds.

Macaroni Penguin Babies

Macaroni Penguin Babies
Macaroni penguins stand out with their distinctive yellow or orange crest, resembling the flashy fashion sense of an 18th-century "macaroni."

These penguins live in large colonies in the Sub-Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula, migrating to land during the breeding season. They form lifelong mating pairs, and both parents take turns incubating their eggs and caring for their chicks.

With a diet rich in krill, fish, and crustaceans, macaroni penguins are the largest consumers of marine resources among seabirds.

While they have many natural predators, their greatest threat comes from human activities like commercial fishing and marine pollution, which have contributed to their vulnerable conservation status.

Baby Penguin Size & Weight

Baby penguins, or chicks, vary in size and weight depending on their species. The smallest penguin, the Fairy Penguin, weighs a mere 35–47 grams at birth. They’re so tiny! Medium-sized penguins, like the Magellanic Penguin, weigh around 50–57 grams when born.

Now, the Emperor Penguin, the largest penguin species, has newborns weighing in at 300–315 grams. That’s quite a difference! These chicks are already a fraction of their future adult weight, which can reach up to 22–37 kg. It’s incredible to think that these little chicks will grow so much!

Baby Penguin Diet

Baby Penguin Diet
A baby penguin’s diet is similar to an adult penguin’s, consisting of fish, krill, and squid. However, adult penguins partially digest their food before feeding it to their chicks in the form of ‘fish milk‘—a special oil made from the nutrients of their food. This process takes a couple of days.

In the wild, penguins feed primarily on fish, crustaceans, and squid, but in captivity, they’re often fed squid, smelt, herring, mackerel, and whiting fish. The quality of the fish is essential, and it’s advised to feed captive penguins a variety of fish species.

The frequency of feeding for baby penguins can vary. Parents often leave their chicks for up to 24 hours in a ‘crèche’ while they hunt for food. Penguin chicks may also experience fasting periods, especially during their growth and development stages.

Feeding Methods for Baby Penguins

Feeding Methods for Baby Penguins
So, how do baby penguins eat? Penguin parents have a few tricks up their sleeves to make sure their chicks are well-fed and happy.

First, they hunt for food, which can include fish, krill, or squid. Then, they use one of three methods to store the food and turn it into something their chicks can eat: regurgitation, refrigeration, or creating a secretion similar to milk.

Regurgitation is when the parent coughs up the partially digested food, which the chick then eats directly from the parent’s bill. The refrigeration method is genius—the parent swallows the prey whole, storing it in their stomach at body temperature, with enzymes preventing it from fully digesting. The third method is creating a secretion called crop milk, a fatty, high-protein food that develops in the parent’s crop, a pouch in their throat.

Both male and female penguins take turns feeding their chicks, and during this time, the chicks form groups called "crèches" for protection and safety.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a child penguin called?

A baby penguin is called a chick or a nestling.

Is a chick a baby penguin?

Yes, a chick is a baby penguin. Much like a baby chicken, a baby penguin is called a chick or a nestling. These little ones are absolutely adorable, and they’re part of the bird family, growing feathers and having beaks.

Can you have a penguin as a pet?

No, you can’t have a penguin as a pet. Penguins are wild and endangered, and it’s illegal to keep them as pets in the US and many other countries. They’re also social, requiring the company of other penguins to stay healthy and happy.

Why are baby penguins fluffy?

Baby penguins, or chicks, are fluffy because they haven’t grown their second layer of feathers yet. This downy fluff, while not waterproof, helps protect them from the cold.

How do baby penguins learn to swim?

Baby penguins take around four months to learn to swim. They can’t swim with their fluffy down feathers, which aren’t waterproof. Once they molt into their adult plumage, they can finally take the plunge.

What are baby penguins natural predators?

Baby penguins face a variety of natural predators, both on land and in the water. On land, they may fall prey to introduced species like dogs, foxes, snakes, cats, and rats. In the water, their main predators include leopard seals, sea lions, and orcas.

What do baby penguins eat?

Baby penguins, or chicks, eat food that has been regurgitated by their parents. This food is usually fish, krill, or squid—caught by the parent and partially digested before being fed to the chick.

How do baby penguins communicate?

Baby penguins use vocalizations and body language to communicate. They make unique sounds, which their parents can identify, and vice versa. These sounds include begging peeps when they’re hungry and whistle-like calls to their parents.

Do baby penguins have a sense of smell?

Baby penguins do have a sense of smell. But it’s not as sharp as some other animals. They use their snouts to sniff out their mama and papa penguins, as well as to locate their nesting sites.


The baby penguins are indeed interesting creatures.

From appearance and diet to the size and weight of their feeding, each species has something unique that adds to their overall charm.

From the fuzzy down of emperor penguin chicks to the feeding habits of Gentoo penguin parents, there’s much to discover and learn about these birds.

From the wide-ranging diet of penguins in general to the characteristics associated with each baby penguin type, there’s much to discover and learn about these birds.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh is a passionate bird enthusiast and author with a deep love for avian creatures. With years of experience studying and observing birds in their natural habitats, Mutasim has developed a profound understanding of their behavior, habitats, and conservation. Through his writings, Mutasim aims to inspire others to appreciate and protect the beautiful world of birds.