What is Your Favourite Type of Penguin?

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Is there anyone in the world who doesn’t love penguins? Graceful in the water and awkward on land, their entertaining antics are enough to melt the hardest of hearts.

Their white bellies, black overcoats and inability to fly make them instantly recognisable, but each type of penguin has unique features and personality traits, making some more endearing than others.

So what is my favourite type of penguin?

There are 17 species of penguin in the world, located in the southern hemisphere. I’ve narrowed down my favourites to the seven types I’ve enjoyed photographing in the wild in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica. Although I suspect if I ever see an Emperor Penguin it will jump to the top of the list!

In no particular order, the candidates for ‘my favourite penguin’ are…drum roll….

Rockhopper Penguin

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Through my eyes, the Rockhopper Penguin is a cross between a moody teenager and an angst ridden rock star. Is it the crest of spiky yellow and black feathers adorning its head? Is it because its furrowed brow makes it look constantly grumpy? Or is it the feisty and aggressive attitude that seems out of proportion with its small size?

Whatever the reason, the Rockhopper Penguin is one of my favourite penguins to sit and watch. Their hop is comical, their interaction with each other entertaining and their aggressive defence against air-born predators impressive.

Did You Know? Over-fishing and pollution has begun to take its toll on the Southern Rockhopper, which is now classified as vulnerable.

Size: 5.5 to 6.6kg

Height: 55cm

Life Span: 20 years

Distinguishing Features: the crest of spiky yellow and black feathers on its head and the way it moves around on land, with a hop instead of a waddle

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King Penguin

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The aptly named King Penguin is regal in both appearance and attitude. Despite living with thousands of other penguins in some of the larger colonies on South Georgia, each one struts around with its chest out and head held high like it owns the place: an attitude fit for a king.

Visiting the King Penguin colonies in South Georgia (especially Salisbury Plain, Gold Harbour and St Andrew’s Bay) remains one of the greatest wildlife experiences of my life. The sight, sound (and smell) of thousands of penguins standing alongside each other, creating a carpet of black, white and orange across the land, is simply mind-blowing.

Did You Know? King Penguin chicks take up to 16 months to fledge and due to this long breeding cycle, adults may leave chicks alone to fast in the colony during the winter months.

Size: 14 to 17kg

Height: 85-95cm

Life Span: 26 years

Distinguishing Features: Bright orange bill and patch over the ears (yellow in younger penguins) and a lighter coloured back than most other penguins.

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Chinstrap Penguin

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The Chinstrap Penguin, with its distinctive black and white features is one of my favourite penguins to photograph. They are feisty and curious and contrast beautifully against the snow and ice. And unlike the King Penguin who begins life as an ‘ugly duckling’ with its thick, brown coat, the Chinstrap Penguin chicks are as attractive as their parents.

Did You Know? Of all the species, the Chinstrap’s status is considered of ‘least concern’ due to its high and thriving population.

Size: 4.8 to 5kg

Height: 71-76cm

Life Span: 15-20 years

Distinguishing Features: the black stripe under their chin that joins their black head to resembled a bike helmet and strap.

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Adelie Penguin

Petermann Island, Antarctica

Recently immortalised as Monty the Penguin on the John Lewis Christmas advert, the Adelie Penguin is one of the most popular and recognisable penguin species in the world. It joins the Emperor Penguin as the only species that is not found outside Antarctica.

Its black and white features are simple but striking and an Adelie Penguin sighting in Antarctica is as iconic as an iceberg. And let’s be honest – any animal that lives in Antarctica all year round deserves some respect.

Did You Know? The Adelie Penguin breeds further south than any other penguin.

Size: 4 to 5.5kg

Height: 70cm

Life Span: 20 years

Distinguishing Features: white eye ring and the habit of stealing rocks from their neighbours nests

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Macaroni Penguin

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I was feeling confident about seeing a Macaroni Penguin on my first visit to South Georgia and Antarctica. After all, there are more Macaroni Penguins in the world than any other species.

I saw one – one solitary Macaroni Penguin. It seemed lost and outnumbered in a Chinstrap Penguin colony on Half Moon Island.

I was fortunate to see a few more on my return trip two years later, but as they prefer to nest on rocky slopes, all of these sightings were at a distance from a zodiac. But even from a distance they are hard to miss, with their striking yellow head feathers. They appeared less feisty and aggressive than some of the other species on this list and again, I saw a solitary Macaroni Penguin amongst a group of Chinstraps at Elephant Island. Sensing a theme here…

Did You Know? The Macaroni Penguin population is the largest of all the species, estimated at 18 million.

Size: 5.5kg

Height: 71cm

Life Span: 8-15 years

Distinguishing Features: The yellow feathers that fall across each side of its head like a bad comb-over attempt.

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Gentoo Penguin

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Found on both the sub-Antarctic islands and in the Antarctic Peninsula, there has been no shortage of Gentoo Penguins to observe on my trips south. I’ve watched them swim gracefully in the water, build their nests from stone and grass, mate with enthusiastic energy, nest protectively on their eggs, feed their chicks and – in a harsh reminder of the reality of life in the wild – lose two chicks to a hungry and aggressive Brown Skua.

Did You Know? The Gentoo Penguin is the fastest swimmer of all the penguins, reaching speeds of 36kph in the water.

Size: 5.5kg

Height: 76cm

Life Span: 15-20 years

Distinguishing Features: peach-coloured feet, red-orange beaks and white ‘cap’ across its head.

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Magellanic Penguin

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The Magellanic Penguin is a migratory species, gravitating as far as Brazil and Peru in winter in search of warmer waters. The Magellanic Penguin was the first species I saw on my journey south and to be honest, the least memorable. They spent most of their time beneath the ground in their burrows and I spent most of my time trying to avoid stepping on them.

Did You Know? Unlike the other penguins on this list, the Magellanic Penguin nests in burrows or under bushes.

Size: 4 to 4.7kg

Height: 70cm

Life Span: 20-30 years

Distinguishing Features: Two black bands across its chest, one thick and one thin.


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So how is it possible to choose one favourite from such an endearing group of penguins?  Well, it’s impossible – but if I was forced to choose one, the King Penguin may just slip ahead of the Rockhopper and Chinstrap.

What is your favourite penguin?

These are the 7 species you are likely to see on a travel adventure to the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Antarctica.  


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Kellie is a traveller and photographer who is most at home when exploring the world beyond it. Through the intersection of her travel, writing and photography passions, she shares her experiences to inspire others to create there own. The desire to live life instead of existing through it has introduced Kellie to inspirational locations throughout seven continents and from this a passion for landscape and wildlife photography has evolved. She feels a particular connection to the polar regions and Africa. You can see more of her photography at www.kellienetherwoodphotography.com


  1. Golly! I wanted to Pin one and it took me ages to decide which! But eventually I went for the gentoo, so I guess that answers the question from your post title too!

  2. I love them all as well. The curious nature of the King penguin on South Georgia is hard to resist. Gentoos on a pristine beach in the Falklands was pretty special. And chinstraps in a snowstorm in Antarctica. Love them all.

  3. im obsessed with penguins at the moment since I watched happy feet. My dream is to go and see them in their natural habitat

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