Penguins Rock

Edinburgh Zoo. One the animals that the zoo is famous for being the home to is Penguins. They are homed in an area known as Penguins Rock, to be precise. This was the first zoo in the world to house and breed penguins, while the King Penguin was the first animal to arrive at the Zoo (around 1919) and are still there today hence its iconicness. There is around 18 types of Penguin in the world (depending on the authority) and Penguins Rock is today home to three different types of them- the King Penguin, the Gentoo Penguin, and the Rockhopper Penguin.

The King Penguin

Scientifically named Aptenodytes patagonicus, they are notable for their black and orange heads. These King penguins are the second largest type of penguin in the world (only behind the Emperors). Like most penguins they have very large white and black bodies, though are regarded as being very graceful. Due to their features and size they are often commonly mistaken for the emperor penguin, though can be told apart from the brightness of colour- with the emperors generally having light yellow patches unlike there King counterparts who will have bright orange.

Although they are the second largest, the King is in fact very noticeably smaller. (Photo courtesy of Biology Stack Exchange)

Their diet consists largely of fish and crail, and their outstanding diving skills make for easy catching with these penguins able to dive down at more than 300 metres, spending around 5 minutes on average under water. However, they live in the Antarctic which can have very salty water, but they subsequently have specially adapted stomachs for drinking the Antarctica’s salty water- this unique stomach can separate the salt from the water allowing the King’s (and other penguins) to remain hydrated. The king penguins lifespan can range from 10-15 years to 25-30 years depending on whether they are in their natural habitat (the wild) or living in captivity.

Baby King penguins are small with thick brown fur around their body and face. As they grow this fur begins to fall off and the trademark form of the king penguins start to appear. These baby penguins are very reliant on their parents for the first few years, as their coats make it difficult for them to swim, and thus catch their own food. There is estimated to be around 8-10 million of these penguins in the world today, largely in the Indian Ocean and the Falkland Islands. Popular with tourists in these places, they tend to be very friendly and tolerant to humans, unless you go to close to their colony that is, and this would be a unwise idea as these colonies can be extremely large in size- there was once a colony estimated of being upto 150,000 members strong spotted on a island in the Atlantic ocean.

Amongst the king penguins living here is none other than Sir Nils Olav. A legendary figure, he is the mascot of the Norwegian Kings Guard. The King penguin was adopted into the regiment by a Norwegian Kings Guard, Nils Egelien, during a visit here in 1972. Sir Nils Olav became knighted by King Harold V of Norway in 2005, and traditionally receives a rank promotion upon any further visits from the Norwegian kings guard, with his latest title being colonel-in-chief. A 4-foot-high bronze statue of him was presented to Edinburgh Zoo on the day of the knighthood. Sir Nils can not abide by the military dress code, and instead wears a Norway rank insignia on his right flipper.


The Gentoo Penguin

Scientifically named Pygoscelis papua, this name is a reference to their tail-wagging antics when waddling (unusual for a penguin). Their fairly long and spikey tails, with have around 15-19 feathers, will wag like a dog when on the move- with ‘Pygoscelis’ meaning ‘rump-tailed’. In terms of features, they are possibly the most recognisable of them all due to the very notable white strips above their eyes and bright orange feet. These Gentoo’s are the third largest of the penguin species, and unlike the others have two subspecies- Pygoscelis Papua Papua and Pygoscelis Papua Ellsworthii, though there is little to separate the two expect adult size. All three Gentoo’s can be found in surrounding Islands of the Atlantic and pacific oceans in colonies of around 100-300 members strong.

Like most others primarily eat krill and small fish, while they themselves are considered particularly delicious by sea lions and leopard seals. Lucky then that they are not only the fastest swimming penguins in the world, reaching speeds of 23mph, but that also makes them the fastest of all water birds. They are amongst the most romantic aswell- a male penguin will signify his intention to mate by passing to the lucky female a small pebble. The penguins are able to breed at just 3 years old, and there is no penguin laws to stop them! Fortunate then that they are faithful animals, and are unlikely to mate with more than one female in their lifetime.

They are very popular and considered a flagship product for zoos around the world – with more than 1,000 currently in captivity. In the 1930s, the Norwegian government attempted to introduce them in the northern part of the country. This proved to be unsuccessfully though, as there have been no recorded sights of any Penguins in Norway since 1951. There is a large number of Gentoo penguins at Edinburgh Zoo.


The Rockhopper Penguin

Scientifically known as Eudyptes moseleyi, the Rockhopper is classified into three rockhopper subspecies- the western rockhopper, the northern rockhopper and the eastern rockhopper. However, this is disputed as many have disregarded the species split into three and still consider them one species- simply the Rockhopper. For the purposes of this we will agree with with those disputers. They are though part of the crested penguins, native to New Zealand and the surrounding islands. They are labelled such due to the yellow crest (turf of feathers) on their heads. They are the predominant species of this small crested group, with others including the Royal Penguin and Fiordland Penguin.

The Rockhopper then is one of the most eccentric looking of the different penguin species, their facial features set these penguins apart from the others. With frightening red eyes and the black & blonde crested spikes, the rockhoppers are very unique looking. They can be quite small but are known to be aggressive too, and will often make loud howling noises, while they are known to shake their heads, and take bows, when trying to communicate- adding to their uniqueness. The northern rockhopper also have notable orange beaks, that are black until they are about 4 years old.

In terms of their diet, similar to the other penguins they will eat largely fish and krail, and are also on the menu for sea lions and killer whales. Swimming comes naturally to penguins (to little surprise with those big rubber feet) and the Rockhopper is no different. They are so fast at swimming, in fact, that they cant stop when they return to shore, and will subsequently simply launch themselves out of the water and slid along the beach until they naturally stop. The rockhopper penguins can be found largely in the Falkland islands area, aswell as New Zealand, and live upto only 10 years.


So…. just to quickly clarify with our Scots penguins then- King Penguins are the black&orange heads, Gentoo penguins is white stripe, and Rockhopper penguins are the blonde spikes.


Penguin Calls

Like all penguins, our three Scottish penguins also make whats known as Penguin calls. They are very loud, howling-like sounds and are not without purpose. They use these squealing-like calls fro everything from communication to mating, and they are individually identifiable. Although they come in many different forms, they largely consist of three types of calls –

The Contact Call. This is made to distinguish colony members from non-colony members. King Penguins, for example, will change the intensity and frequency of their vocalisations when calling their young chicks back from a large colony, and subsequently only their youngster will hear the call and return. The call of the King & Gentoo penguins can be heard half a mile away.

The Display Call. This is used between partners in a colony. This is by far the most complex of the Penguin vocalisations, and is used to communicate territorial, sexual, or mating information. These types if calls are often used when out hunting in the sea for food, as the colonies can easily become separated, and subsequently the calls can often be unique to the colony.

The Threat Call. Chanted when a predator is near. This is the simplest of all Penguin calls, and its sole purpose is to warn of predators approaching, aswell as identify any non-colony members that is in their pack.


Penguin Parade. At somepoint during the day the Penguins will go on their daily Penguin Parade – where our Scottish penguins will march around the picnic area before returning to Penguins Rock. The tradition is a good one, and It comes from an accident in 1951, when one of the penguin keepers left the gate to penguins rock open. A load of the penguins made a great escape- or atleast that’s what it looked like. Instead of making the great escape, the rebels instead walked in a giant circle- and back into Penguins Rock, with the parade today a tribute to this adventure.


Penguins Rock Gallery

Watch live feed of Penguins Rock – https://www.edinburghzoo.org.uk/webcams/penguin-cam/


One can’t be angry when one looks at a penguin.

John Ruskin

Posted in: Animals, Places

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