These incredibly popular flightless birds are actually quite flexible with regards to where they live. Though mostly strongly associated with cold climates, some species of penguins bask in temperatures exceeding 35C! It's still right to assume that most penguins live in cold climates, but here we’re going to answer the question in detail; where do penguins live?
Of the 18 species of penguins, all but one species of penguin (the Galapagos penguin) live in the Southern Hemisphere, and around ten live either in the Antarctic or in the sub-Antarctic. The remaining species of penguins are distributed across Australia and New Zealand, the coast of Africa, South America, and various islands, such as the Falklands Islands, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands.
Perhaps the most crucial fact to remember about where penguins live is that there are no penguins in the Arctic (or anywhere near it!) It’s 100% true that penguins and polar bears, two of the most famous polar animals, will never meet in the wild (thankfully for the penguins).
Penguins can still definitely be found in some surprising places, such as the temperate rainforests of southwest New Zealand and the arid coastal regions of Chile’s Atacama desert.
Read on to learn more about the distribution of various species of the much-loved penguin!
King Penguins walking towards the water, Falkland Islands
No penguins live in the Arctic. Only four species are permanent or near-permanent residents of Antarctica, and only two of those live in the furthest reaches of continental Antarctica.
The four species of penguin that live in Antarctica are:
The Emperor penguin lives farthest south of these four species, followed by the Adelie and Chinstrap.
The Gentoo is quite borderline and lives mainly on the northern Sub-Antarctic islands. Then, at least three other species breed on many of the southern Sub-Antarctic islands; the Macaroni, King, and South Rockhopper penguins.
Adelie penguins in Antarctica
Other than Antarctica, Penguins live across much of the Southern Hemisphere, including New Zealand and Australia, South America, South Africa, and many of the South Ocean and Sub-Antarctic islands.
They can be found in some remote and peculiar places, such as the deserts of South America and the rainforests of New Zealand and Australia.
African Penguins are the only species of penguin found in Africa
The distribution range of penguins stretches from the Galapagos Islands in the north to Cape Royds in Antarctica, a remote base established during Sir Ernest Shackleton's British Antarctic Expedition.
Considering that the Galapagos Islands straddle the northern and Southern Hemispheres, penguins are distributed across practically all of the Southern Hemisphere, including on four continents (Africa, South America, Antarctica, and Oceania).
Penguins are flexible about their habitats. The southernmost species, the Emperors and Adelies, live and breed on rugged coastlines and arid ice sheets with few features.
Almost all penguins prefer coastal habitats, which is where the vast majority live. Additionally, most species of penguins tend to live in very remote regions and islands with few, if any, land predators.
In Africa, South America and New Zealand, and Australia, penguins occupy various habitats ranging from mountainous, rocky coastal regions to flat, dry deserts and even rainforests. While penguins generally prefer isolated, remote regions, they make their habitats in a wide range of fascinating locations!
King Penguins on Macquarie Island, between Australia and Antarctica
Emperor penguins live exclusively on the coast of continental Antarctica, typically between the southern 66º and 77º latitudes.
They’re the southernmost species of penguins, followed by the Adelies, and live and breed in some of the harshest environments of any animal on earth.
Emperors are a superlative species of penguins - they’re the tallest and heaviest species of all penguins, and they breed in the coldest, harshest regions.
Emperor Penguins in Antarctica
King penguins live on most of the sub-Antarctic islands between the latitudes of 45° and 55°.
Sizeable colonies are found on the South Sandwich Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula, the Crozet Islands, the Prince Edward Islands, and the Kerguelen Islands.
Further north, King penguins are also found on Tierra del Fuego and the Falkland Islands, and some are establishing themselves in Patagonia.
African penguins live on some 24 islands in Africa and on much of the rocky southwestern coastline from Namibia to Port Elizabeth in South Africa itself.
There are two fairly newly established colonies near Cape Town, at Boulders Beach and near Stony Point in Betty's Bay. African penguin numbers are dropping rapidly, and they’re now a Threatened species throughout much of the region.
Macaroni penguins are most likely the most abundant species of penguins and have a wide range that spans some of the more temperate Sub-Antarctic islands.
However, most colonies are found in the Subantarctic and Antarctic Peninsula. There are some 216 colonies of Macaroni penguins distributed across at least 50 sites.
In South America, Macaroni penguins are found in southern Chile, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia, and the South Sandwich Islands. In addition, some foraging groups have been recorded as far north as Brazil and South Africa.
Macaroni Penguins in South Georgia
Little penguins live solely in Australia and New Zealand, mostly in Australia.
In Australia, colonies are found spanning the southern coastlines and Tasmania. The largest colonies are found on Kangaroo Island and Phillip Island, both in Australia.
Penguin colonies tend to be quite large, numbering hundreds of thousands of birds. For example, Zavodovski Island is home to around 1 million Chinstrap penguins - you’d be certain to see one!
In terms of accessible places to see penguins in the wild, Patagonia, the Falkland Islands, the South Georgia Islands, and Australia’s Kangaroo and Phillip Islands are all popular, besides Antarctica itself of course. While some species of penguins are threatened or endangered, they’re not ‘rare’ on the whole.
A large colony of Chinstrap Penguins on Zavodovski Island
There are more penguins in Antarctica than anywhere else. Penguins are found on practically every Sub-Antarctic island and around Antarctica's coastline.
Zavodovski Island has the highest population of penguins outside of Antarctica - there are around 1 million Chinstrap penguins there alone. Penguins are also relatively common in parts of Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands.
Penguins may not go anywhere specific at night, instead choosing to remain standing or even floating or swimming. In addition, penguins often take naps during both the day and night, rather than sleeping solely at night.
Some smaller species of land-dwelling penguins dig burrows (e.g., the African and Little penguin) to which they can retreat at night. Ice-dwelling penguins might take shelter in rocky outcrops or by cliffsides.
A pair of Chinstrap Penguins, Antarctica
Despite Alaska looking like a somewhat ideal habitat for penguins, there are no penguins in Alaska or anywhere near it. In fact, the closest penguins to Alaska are located in the Galapagos, which is over 5000 miles away!
There are no penguins anywhere near Canada. Only one species of penguin even lives in the northern hemisphere (the Galapagos penguin). The closest penguins to Canada are well over 5000 miles away, in South America’s Peru, Chile, and Argentina.
There are no species of penguins endemic to Hawaii, or anywhere near it. In fact, there are no species of penguins endemic to North or Central America. The closest penguins to Hawaii are located on South America’s west coast.
Iceland would probably make a great habitat for penguins, but there are no penguins remotely near Iceland. The closest wild penguins to Iceland are probably found in South Africa, which is many thousands of miles away!
There are no wild or endemic penguins in the US, or anywhere near it. The closest populations of penguins to the US are probably found in Peru and the Galapagos Islands. Only one species, the Galápagos penguin, lives north of the Equator - the rest live solely in the Southern Hemisphere.
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