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Adélie Penguin

Pygoscelis adeliae; named in 1840 by French explorer Jules Dumont d'Urville, for his wife

Adelie Penguin


The Adélie penguin sports a characteristic "tuxedo look," with a blue-black back and completely white chest and belly. The head is black, with a distinctive white ring around each eye, the bill is red, and the feet are pink. Immatures have a bluer back than the adult, with a white throat and cheek. Chicks are downy, with a dark grey head and grey body. An adult Adelie stands about 2 feet tall and weighs about 13 pounds.

Distribution and Habitat

The Adélie is one of only two penguins found on the Antarctic mainland, the other being the emperor. It spends the winter and spring in and on the pack ice ringing the continent, before returning south to the coast for the warmer summer months.


Krill makes up the majority of the Adélie's diet, but it also takes molluscs, squid, and small fish. During the breeding season, foraging occurs in coastal waters close to breeding colonies, although migration further afield during the winter months is common.


Breeding takes place in huge colonies (often numbering in the tens of thousands) during the Antarctic summer months of November and December. Almost all colonies of Adélies are found close to persistent areas of open water, so that breeding penguins do not need to walk long distances to reach areas in which they can swim and dive to forage. The male arrives at the breeding ground first, and begins to build a nest out of small stones, before the female arrives a few days later. Pairs usually reunite for consecutive years, unless one of the mates does not return to the nesting site, and an Adélie will often return to the colony where it was born in order to breed.

Most clutches consist of two eggs, laid two or three days apart. The male and female take turns incubating their eggs while the other goes off to feed, for up to 10 days at a time, for a total of about 35 days. The parents continue to trade off parenting duties after the eggs hatch. After about a month, the chicks congregate in groups called creches, and are able to fend for themselves at sea when they are between 2 and 3 months old.

Other Information

Adélies are capable of diving up to 575 feet in search of food and can swim as fast as 10 miles per hour under water.

Although Adélies are not known to be territorial, it is not uncommon for adults to become aggressive over nesting sites, and have even been known to steal rocks from the nests of their neighbors.

Adélies are constantly interacting with one another, with body language and specific eye movements thought to be the most common forms of communication.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Sphenisciformes
family Spheniscidae
genus & species Pygoscelis adeliae


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The Robinson Library >> Order Sphenisciformes

This page was last updated on September 01, 2018.