The fourth kind of penguin common around the Antarctic Peninsula, the Macaroni, boasts flashy looks: Crests of yellow feathers resembling stylized eyelashes. These plumes give them their name, taken from 18th-century fops known as Macaroni Dandies. But don’t be fooled by their flamboyance: they’ll gladly engage in “bill-jousting,” using their beaks to battle.
At home in the White Wilderness
by Magdalena Zoroza, Regional General Manager, South America & Antarctica
It’s an old joke among explorers that there are only two kinds of penguins: the white ones coming toward you, and the black ones walking away. But these flightless birds are more diverse than you might think, with 17 species found around the world, including six in the Antarctic alone. Travelers cruising to the South Shetland Islands and Antarctic Peninsula are likely to see four distinct species of penguins. All of these species wear the “tuxedo” you’ve come to expect—but one wears a turban, another a helmet, and a third sports a “strap” across its chin.
First and foremost among Antarctic penguins is the Adélie, whose solid black head and white front most invoke the look of an old English butler. Unlike the majority of penguins, which inhabit the region only seasonally, Adélies live here year-round, with
a population of two million ringing nearly the entire continent. During the winter, they huddle together to share body heat, rotating in and out of the cluster so those on the outside of the huddle get a chance to warm up.
The Adélies were named by 19th-century French explorer Jules Dumont d’Urville for his wife, who was left behind in Paris while her husband went exploring for up to a year at a time. Adélie penguin couples rarely endure such lengthy separations, at least during mating season, when males and females share incubation, parenting, and foraging duties.
Gentoo penguins are even more dramatically faithful than Adélies. They stay with their mates throughout the entire year, sometimes even reusing the same nesting site, which is rare among penguins. They use the same path to and from the sea so routinely that they wear a beaten path into the Antarctic landscape. Like a mini-highway, these clearly defined routes become the paths for other gentoos, who are easily spotted by their two defining features: an orange beak and their “turbans,” the white swaths on their glossy dark heads.
Chinstrap penguins have a different kind of headgear. Beneath their beaks, their white faces boast slender black markings resembling straps, making it appear that the birds are wearing helmets. Maybe they should be, as chinstraps are among the most aggressive species. Fast, strong, and not concerned with politeness, they’ll fight over the best spot, steal each other’s rocks, and even force other penguins off their nests.
Once you’ve explored Antarctic waters, you’ll find the differences in species easy to spot—and know that when it comes to distinguishing penguins, it’s never as simple as black and white.