Penguins are amongst the most social and gregarious of all birds. In fact, every species of penguin is colonial, and all but two species form large collectivised colonies of thousands - or even millions of birds. Penguin colonies are complex societies, and they do practically everything as a group, including nesting, travelling and feeding, but what is a group of penguins actually called?
The collective noun for a group of penguins depends on where they’re situated and what they’re doing at the time. The most common collective nouns for a group of penguins are colonies, rookeries or huddles, but swimming penguins are called a raft, and walking penguins are called a waddle.
These aren’t the only terms for groups of penguins. Read on to learn more about why penguins live in colonies and what other terms people have come up with for groups of penguins!
A large King Penguin colony in South Georgia, Antarctic
A formality of penguins
A huddle of penguins
An icing of penguins
A march of penguins
A muster of penguins
A parade of penguins
A parcel of penguins
A pride of penguins
A rookery of penguins
A shiver of penguins
A tobogganing of penguins
A town of penguins
A tuxedo of penguins
Not all of these terms apply to all species or groups of penguins. For example, groups of Emperor penguins march inland from their hunting grounds to their rookeries, often in a single file column of hundreds or thousands of penguins, hence why they’re called a march.
Tobogganing is when penguins slide along the ice on their stomachs, using their flippers for propulsion - that’s when you might call a group of penguins a tobogganing.
Penguins are often described as wearing tuxedos, hence why you might also call a group of penguins a tuxedo of penguins
A group of Adelie Penguins going to the water
It's tempting to think that penguins flock together mainly to protect themselves and each other from the cold, but that doesn't tell the whole story.
Whilst some species such as the Emperor penguin do flock together to protect themselves from fierce Antarctic winds, and ultra-low temperatures, other species of penguins such as the Galapagos penguin, Humboldt penguin and African penguin live in comparatively warm climates. In fact, they're often observed struggling to keep cool rather than struggling to stay warm! This suggests that cold climates are certainly not the only reason why penguins are sociable.
Penguins, as flightless birds, are naturally confined to a relatively small selection of habitats that encourages them to colonise together. They can't travel huge distances from their nesting sites like flighted birds and instead tend to maintain the same historical nesting grounds across generations. This is probably partly why they've evolved to live together, as they're naturally limited in their distribution compared to flighted birds.
Large groups also provide protection from predators such as seals, petrels and skuas. Penguins have a number of advanced warning calls to alert parents of predators that could pose a danger to their chicks, though it's often actually other penguins that pose the most significant risk to chicks.
Humboldt penguin colony
Despite living in vast colonies, penguins generally keep to their mated pairs and are very territorial. For example, male Adelie penguins will construct nests out of rocks - the aim being to build the most attractive nest for a mate. Male penguins may try to steal rocks from each other’s nests, but straying too far into another’s territory can result in vicious and bloody fights.
Chinstrap penguins also have a penchant for theft and will go about stealing pebbles from each other’s nests. Fights between male penguins are commonplace, and attempt to kidnap or abduct each other’s chicks are not uncommon. As such, it’s sometimes a wonder why penguins insist on living in such close proximity to each other!
With that said, many species of penguins display excellent cooperation and teamwork, particularly those that live in the coldest and most hostile of regions.
This is one of the more peculiar aspects of penguin society - they seem to work together spectacularly well when they need to without necessarily getting on with each other or enjoying each other’s company. Penguins even maintain inter-colony territories, meaning that the chicks of smaller groups of penguins are attacked by adult penguins when they stray into their territory within the same colony.
A group of chinstrap penguins walking to the water
Penguins flock together all year round for most activities such as nesting, breeding and feeding. The largest flocks of penguins number hundreds of thousands, or even millions, and are often distributed across several square miles.
Despite their territorial tendencies and occasional acts of aggression towards each other, penguins are still famed for their cooperative behaviours when it comes to protecting each other from predators and huddling from the cold.
Not all penguins live in cold environments, but those that do, like the Royal and Emperor penguin, have become extremely well-adapted to their harsh environments through the formation of huddling behaviours.
By organising themselves in shift patterns, penguins filter out to the periphery of the huddle and work their way back into the inner core once they’ve done their duty. Gaps of just 2cm between huddled penguins can instigate the entire pack to move and reorganise themselves. The penguin huddle is one of nature’s most astounding displays of teamwork and researchers are still uncovering secrets about the way penguin huddles work.
One of the most interesting stages of the huddle is when it ends and the penguins disperse. The body heat of penguins at the centre of the huddle can reach temperatures of some 37.5C which is much higher than penguins can endure for any lengthy period of time. It’s actually penguins at the periphery which disperse the huddle, perhaps because they have some perception of the innermost penguins suffering from excessive heat.
A group of Rockhopper Penguin chicks huddling together
A typical penguin colony numbers in the hundreds of thousands, but some may exceed one million birds. The world-record largest colony of penguins can be found on the South Sandwich Islands (Antarctica) where approximately two million Chinstrap penguins colonise together.
There is no distinct name for a pair of penguins. Penguins form strong bonds between mated pairs and demonstrate strong teamwork and cooperation when rearing their young.
Most penguin pairs are fiercely monogamous, but there are exceptions to the rule. Penguin parents also have exceptionally strong parental instincts, which can sometimes even trigger them to abduct and kidnap chicks if they happen to lose their own.
The chicks of some species of penguins like Emperor and King penguins form creches. Creches are groups of baby penguin chicks, their own miniaturised version of the larger adult penguin huddle. Not all penguin species form creches, only surface-nesting species that generally don’t maintain safely enclosed nested burrows. This is why a group of baby penguins is called a creche of penguins.
During the first few weeks after a penguin chick is born, parents take it in turns to look after the chick and keep it warm whilst the other leaves to hunt and forage. The small chick will be kept warm in the parents’ brood pouch - a flap of skin that they use to protect the egg.
A creche of Emperor Penguins
After around 4 to 5 weeks, the chick becomes too large for the brood pouch and that’s when chicks start to form a creche. Penguin creches allow both parents to hunt and forage for food rather than just one which is much more efficient and enables the chick to be well-fed until adulthood.
Chicks at the periphery of the creche have been observed to be more vigilant, not just of predators but of aggressive adult penguins. Adult penguins are known to kidnap chicks if they lose their own, or may even attack chicks that stray from the creche.
Researchers are still unsure of the nuances of penguin creches. For example, other animals that form creches assist each other in feeding and rearing the young, but penguin parents only feed their own young. The fact that penguin chicks are already capable of teamwork at such a young age is quite remarkable.
As aquatic seabirds, penguins are renowned for their clumsiness on land and are frequently observed tripping, slipping, sliding and waddling long. When penguins walk, their upright posture means that they tend to waddle, which is why a group of walking penguins is called a waddle.
Penguins travel in smaller groups of some 5 to 20 penguins - this is when they’d likely be called a waddle.
An exception might be the Rockhopper penguin which, as the name suggests, are much more likely to be spotted hopping than waddling!
A flock of African Penguins
Groups of swimming penguins are called rafts. Penguins are aquatic seabirds and their staple diet is fish, so they spend a lot of time in the water and are fantastic swimmers. The fastest species of penguin, the Gentoo penguin, can reach speeds of 22mph!
Penguins are often seen bobbing about and floating on the water which is when they’d likely be called a raft. This is when penguins are at their least sociable - they’re quite content to float about the water, preening or simply relaxing on their own and also often hunt in isolation.
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