Penguin Glossary


Adélie Penguin named after the wife (Adéle) of a French polar explorer; this is a small penguin (1.5 ft tall) that always lives where there is sea
ice (see sea ice) but which builds its nests of rocks on coastal land (see moraine). It is very fast and nimble both in the water and on land.


Birds preening each other. Behavior between members of a pair, indicating mutual acceptance. Helps keep head feathers clean and in place as well! 


Chicks that are helpless when they hatch and need the safety of the nest as well as parental feeding. Includes penguins, robins, and seagulls.


Antarctic circle

An imaginary line drawn around the Earth at 66o30' South. South of this line there is at least one summer day when the sun never sets for a 24 hour period and one winter day when it never rises for a 24 hour period. As you move farther south, the number of these 24-hr periods increase. At the South Pole winter night and summer day each last for 6 months, the sun rising and setting just once a year.



A large continent almost completely inside the Antarctic circle and 98% covered with ice. Early Greeks named the Arctic polar area after "arktikos" the bear constellation around which all the other stars turned.  To balance out the Artic area they named the southern place Antarktikos which meant "opposite the bear."



giving human qualities to non-human forms





baleen Comb like structures in certain whales that allow them to filter feed. The largest creature on Earth, the Blue Whale is a baleen feeding and eats some of the smallest creatures on Earth, krill.

brash ice

Smallest pieces of ice floating in the sea; may be remnants of an iceberg or whatever is left when an iceberg or ice floes break up.



a bird from the time it hatches until it is able to be on its own.


climate the pattern of weather as viewed over many years. Is it a dry
place? A wet place? Is it mostly cool in summer and very cold in winter? Is it always hot? These are descriptions of climate. See Weather.

clutch size

number of eggs laid in one season by an individual female.



A location where one or more discrete and continuous groups (sub-colonies) of breeding penguins occur, all accessible from the same landing beach. The number of nests may vary from a few to many thousand.


continental glacier a mass of freshwater ice, miles thick, that rests on vast areas of the land. During the last Ice Age, continental glaciers covered much of North America, Europe and Asia. Today they exist only in Antarctica (south pole) and Greenland (north pole).

counter current heat exchange

an internal mechanism where penguins exchange heat from out-flowing blood to incoming blood in unprotected areas like the feet. 


One color on one side, and another color on the other side. Penguins are black on their backs and white on their fronts. The black helps with heat absorption from the sun, while the white helps camouflages them from predators and prey swimming under them.


groups of chicks too large to stay in the nest, but who are not ready to swim off. They are generally not guarded by the adults.  These chicks still have their downy feathers and need to huddle together to stay warm.



deep cracks in the ice formed when the ice flows over rocks, twists and stretches as it moves along.


cycle synchrony

Refers to a species’ breeding season. Those with low synchrony may lay their eggs throughout a lengthy period, from 4 months to continuously throughout the year. Those with high synchrony (Adélie Penguins) all create their nests and lay their eggs within a narrow time frame 6 days to one month long.


emigration the one-way movement of penguins that decide not to breed at the colony where they were reared (hatched) as a chick but rather they
decide to nest at another colony. See Migration.
Emperor Penguin the largest penguin. It is very graceful when swimming, but not on land. Therefore it makes its colonies on sea ice (see Sea ice) that it climbs out onto and that is held fast in place by grounded icebergs or islands for most of the year. The ‘fast ice’ needs to be near to areas of open water (see Polynya) in easy walking distance.


A chick that has left the colony and has swum out to sea.


foodweb (or foodchain) the assembly of all animals and plants in a region, and the pattern of which animal eats what other animal or plant for food. In the Antarctic, penguins eat fish, shrimp (see Krill) and squid; the penguins are eaten by Leopard Seals (see Leopard Seal); the fish and krill eat microscopic animals and plants floating in the sea (see Plankton). See Foraging.


searching for food.   Adélie penguins swim both under the ice and in open water looking for krill, squid and small fish.



tapered at both ends like a torpedo

glacier a mass of ice that because of its size (miles long) and weight
(millions of tons) moves slowly (a few feet per year) down a valley, being pulled by gravity; it begins where high in the mountains snow falls every winter but all of it does not melt in summer. Therefore the ice field gets heavier and heavier until it begins to move. In some areas it has become too warm to snow, so the rain runs away, and the glacier melts and ‘retreats’ (it becomes shorter and shorter, occurring farther up the valley).

global warming

Increase in the average temperature of the earth.


GPS The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a fully functional global navigation system utilizing at least 24 medium Earth satellites that transmit signals to a GPS receiver. The receiver then knows its exact location, speed, direction, and time.

ice floes

any piece of floating sea ice.  They can be a meter to several kilometers across and from completely flat to a crumpled jumble of large pieces. Some are salty ice, some are pure water.


ice sheet another name for a continental glacier, or a broad expanse of snow turned to ice and in the Antarctic and Greenland more than a mile thick. The three major ice sheets in the world are the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, and the Greenland Ice Sheet. The West Antarctic Ice Sheet is the most vulnerable to global warming because it is resting on the sea floor and a rise in sea level will cause it to float and go away, causing the sea level to rise even more.

ice shelves

The floating portions of continental ice sheets that project outward, away from the land. When large pieces of these break off, they become icebergs



Floating ice islands which break off of glaciers. About 80% of the iceberg is under the water. The larger ones can be tracked by satellite.


Immigration the movement of animals into one place from another. Immigration implies long-term permanent residence, short-term visitors are not considered immigrants.

incubation period

Length of time in days between when an egg is laid and when the chick hatches.


known age bird a bird that was banded as a chick so we know the year it was born. Every year we see the bird we know it's age.


A Norwegian word meaning ‘whale food.’ Refers to small (6 cm, 2.3 in) shrimp-like creatures that live in schools, with as many as 19 million per sq kilometer. The dominate species in offshore waters of the southern polar oceans is the Antarctic krill Euphausia superba which can live from 5 -10 years; the dominant species in coastal waters is called Ice or Crystal Krill, E. crystallorophias. Krill eat phytoplankton which grows near the surface of the ocean and under the ice. Females lay 10,000 at a time and may lay several times per season.

latitude gives the location of a place on the Earth north or south of the equator. Lines of Latitude are the horizontal lines shown running east-to-west on maps. They are parallel to each other and equally spaced North to South.

leopard seal

One of the major predators of penguins in Antarctica. These animals are long, sleek and have razor sharp teeth.  They hunt alone near the ice edge waiting for penguins to dive in.


mate fidelity

breeding with the same mate in successive years.


migration the annual round-trip movement of penguins away from and back
to their colonies at the end of one and the beginning of the next breeding season. They move out into the pack ice covered ocean, where they fish and rest on ice floes. They return to their colonies in spring. See Emigration.


Replacing old feathers with new ones. Penguins can not swim during this time so must fast.

moraine large piles (size of office buildings) of small stones that a moving glacier has broken off larger rocks and pushes to the side or leaves behind as glaciers retreat; penguins make nests of these stones.
mummy the freeze-dried body of a dead penguin that because of the Antarctic’s cold and dry climate does not disappear for 1000s of years. Scientists can determine how long ago the penguin died by studying the amount of certain substances that are contained in the mummy.


refers to the site area or colony where a bird was hatched.


natal area

Where a penguin was hatched. In large colonies, considered to be within 200 m in all directions from the bird’s original nest site.



a chick during the guard stage, from hatching to the time it joins a crèche

organic matter that has come from a living organism; is capable of decay, or the product of decay.

pack ice

A mixture of floating ice and open water which constantly changes due to currents and wind patterns. Early explorers  had difficulty steering their ships through the pack ice as leads would open and close sometimes trapping the ship and occasionally crushing it.



Flightless birds that live completely in the Southern Hemisphere. There are 17 living species of these birds, most of them occurring in cold but not polar waters. Through evolution, they have traded flying wings for swimming ones.


permafrost Soil at or below the freezing point of water (0°C or 32° F) for two or more years. Ice is not always present. Most permafrost is located in high latitudes ( North and South Polar regions, but some permafrost can occur at high altitudes.


Microscopic plants and animals that move only by being carried by ocean currents. They are at the base of the Antarctica food chain. They grow in the open water and under the ice staining the ice brown. Larger animals eat them.



flat footed.


polynya (Russian word) an area within the ice pack (see Pack ice) that is almost always free of ice due to strong currents, strong winds or warm water that is rising from the depths. Penguins make their colonies in the vicinity of polynyas because the open water makes it easier for them to travel, swimming rather than walking on sea ice.


Chicks that can walk and feed for themselves within minutes to hours of hatching. They do not stay in the nest, and include ducks, chickens, and geese.



grooming of the feathers to keep them clean and in place.


predation describes an interaction between tow species where a predator organism feeds on another living organism or organisms known as prey.



Genus name for three species of penguins, the Adélie, chinstrap and gentoo. In Greek this word means 'elbow leg', referring to the structure of a penguins’ leg bones.


range (habitat)

An ecological or environmental area where a particular organism lives. It is the natural environment in which an organism lives, or the physical environment that surrounds the organism.


RFID tag Radio-frequency identification (RFID) is an automatic identification method, relying on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags. An RFID tag is an object that can be applied to an animal, for the purpose of identification using radiowaves. Some tags can be read from several meters away and beyond the line of sight of the reader.

sexual dimorphism

Females and males look different to the extent that they can easily be recognized. Penguins show very little sexual dimorphism and thus the sexes are hard to separate.



A large, noisy, and aggressive bird that nests near penguin colonies. In addition to eating fish, krill and squid they prey on penguin eggs and chicks..



the characteristics of your environment today or this week that are determined by whether it is raining or sunny, hot or cold, windy or calm. In most of the world except that near the Earth’s Equator, where it is always sunny and warm (with periodic warm rain), the weather patterns change by season, being colder in the winter and warmer in the summer. Weather can also change by altitude; in other words it may be cloudy and cold on a mountain top but sunny and warm at the mountain’s base.