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Penguin Awareness Day

Today's focus is on raising awareness for penguins, and working to conserve their habitats. There are 18 penguin species, 13 of which have declining populations. Five of these species are endangered and face extinction. There are only about 5,000 of the rarest species, the yellow-eyed penguin. Besides being eaten at the hands of natural predators such as leopard seals, sea lions, and sharks, they are threatened by introduced predators such as dogs, cats, rats, and ferrets, that eat their eggs. They face danger from oil spills and other pollution, from climate change that alters their food sources, from overfishing, and from illegal poaching and egg harvesting.

The word "penguin" first appeared in print in 1500s, and was originally applied to a black and white seabird called an auk that is now extinct. Some believe the name comes from the Welsh words "pen" and "gwyn" that mean "head" and "white." Penguins are non flying birds that are native to the Southern Hemisphere. They are found in Antarctica, South America, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand, and on small islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. The northernmost penguins are Galapagos penguins, which fittingly live on the Galapagos Islands, which are near the equator. The birds cross into the Northern Hemisphere while swimming to feed.

Penguins use their wings as flippers, and their streamlined bodies also help them swim. Some can stay underwater for up to twenty minutes, and they are the deepest diving and fastest swimming birds. Their light-colored front and dark-colored back is called countershading; it provides camouflage both from above and below water when they are swimming, protecting them from predators. It also hides them from the prey they hunt. They are carnivores that eat marine animals. Both male and female penguins have the same coloration.

Of the 18 species, the largest is the emperor penguin, which can grow up to 48 inches and weigh 90 pounds. The smallest is the appropriately named little penguin, which is 12 inches in height and weighs two pounds; it can be found on the coasts of Australia and New Zealand. The fastest swimming penguin is the gentoo, which can swim up to 22 miles an hour. Penguins are largely monogamous birds, and may have the same mate for life. They are colonial birds—birds that nest and breed in close proximity as a group—and their colonies are called rookeries, which may number in the tens of thousands of birds. The average wild penguin can live to be 15 or 20 years old.

How to Observe

Celebrate the day by learning about penguins, and sharing what you learn with others. Taking a trip to the zoo is a good way to both learn and be entertained. You could adopt a penguin, or get involved with International Bird Rescue. You could also watch documentaries and films about penguins such as March of the Penguins or Happy Feet.

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