There are 18 penguin species in the world, but despite wide ranges, these birds can be difficult to see. On the positive side for building a life list, there are several locations where multiple penguin species can be found in relatively small areas. Knowing where those areas are can help you plan a trip to put penguins on your life list.
Penguins are seabirds and spend much of their lives in the water. On land, however, their habitats can be predictable. While some penguin species prefer the harsh ice shelves and blizzard-like conditions of Antarctica where they toboggan, others can be found on rocky islands, coastal beaches, or coastal forest edges in the Southern Hemisphere. They often use burrows or rocky niches for nesting and shelter, so watching cliffs and rocky shores is a good way to try to spot penguins in the proper range.
Where to See Wild Penguins
Wild penguins can be found on four different continents if birders know where on those continents to spot them.
- Antarctica: The hardiest penguin species inhabit the ice shelves and rocky offshore islands near Antarctica. Resident species in this region include the gentoo, adelie, chinstrap, and emperor penguins, with king penguins regularly recorded as Antarctic vagrants.
- South America: Gentoo, macaroni, emperor, adelie, southern rockhopper, chinstrap, and king penguins can be seen along the eastern and western coasts of South America. The humboldt penguin ranges as far north as Peru, while the macaroni penguin is found quite far north on both eastern and western sides of the continent.
- Australia: Australia is a penguin hotspot, with fiordland, macaroni, and little penguins found along the southern coasts on dunes and offshore islands. Royal penguins can be seen only on Macquarie Island, Bishop Island, and Clerk Island south of Australia.
- Africa: Many people don't associate penguins with warm African climates, but the southern beaches and islands of Africa are home to African penguins as well as the southern rockhopper and macaroni species.
In addition to these familiar destinations, penguins can also be found in more isolated areas throughout the Southern Hemisphere.
- New Zealand: New Zealand is the only place to see endangered yellow-eyed penguins, and they're a popular attraction near Oamaru. Erect-crested penguins are also found on Bounty Island and the Antipodes Islands, while little penguins can be found along the New Zealand coast and snares penguins are also in the area. Fiordland penguins inhabit New Zealand's southwestern shores.
- Galapagos Islands: For the only tropical penguin species, birders can visit the Galapagos Islands west of Ecuador and add the endemic Galapagos penguin to their life list. These birds are most common in the western part of the archipelago.
- Falkland Islands: The Falkland Islands, located 290 miles from mainland South America, may be out of the way, but it's one of the best places in the world to see penguins. Southern rockhopper, emperor, king, macaroni, adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap penguins can all be found in this archipelago.
- French Southern Territories: Another out-of-the-way destination, the French Southern Territories are a series of islands far closer to Antarctica than France, but they are home to northern rockhopper, adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap penguins.
Many of these ideal locations to spot wild penguins are out of the way for ordinary birding travel, but some specialized birding tours are available that visit these remote destinations. Birders traveling to more common destinations in penguins' ranges may be able to book sea kayak tours, adventure cruises, or other wildlife watching adventures that can include sightings of wild penguins.
Penguins in Captivity
Less adventurous birders can still get great views of penguins in captivity. Many captive penguin populations are critical for conservation and breeding programs, and they are popular birds for wildlife education initiatives to encourage conservation. While the exact species in captive colonies will vary, penguins can often be seen at:
- Large zoos that feature indoor exhibits or Antarctic habitats
- Large aquariums that emphasize marine birds as well as marine animals
- Marine animal parks such as Sea World and similar attractions
While there are many places in the world to see wild penguins, most of those places can be difficult and expensive to access. By knowing where to travel, birders can plan an excursion to add penguins to their life list, or they can appreciate captive penguins more easily nearby instead. Either way, these charming birds are always worth watching!