Antarctic Wildlife: The Adelie Penguin

By ExpeditionsOnline / 06 November 2017

Antarctic Wildlife: The Adelie Penguin

During the winter months, Adélie Penguins live on or very close to sea ice. In the warmer months, they breed on ice-free land. Naturally, this is rather tricky in Antarctica because less than 1% of the land here is ice-free.

The Adelie Penguin

Discovered by French scientists in 1840, the Adelie Penguin is named after the lead explorer’s wife, Adéle. Despite being the smallest penguin species in the Antarctic, they are feisty little birds with attitude! They are excellent swimmers and predators, diving to depths of 180 metres and often making round-trips of up to 185 miles on the hunt for food. Whilst looking somewhat clumsy on land, Adélies are actually very competent walkers, capable of covering many miles overland at an average speed of 2.5km per hour. 

Recognisable by a white ring around each eye—and their striking similarity to wobbly toddlers in black-and-white dinner suits—Adélie Penguins live on the Antarctic continent, as well as many smaller, surrounding coastal islands like South Sandwich and South Orkney. When living in their idyllic natural habitat, Adélie Penguins have an average life span of 11-20 years, surviving on a diet of tasty krill and other small fish. The penguins themselves are also a food source for predators like killer whales and leopard seals. 


Whilst their population is increasing in East Antarctica, their numbers are unfortunately declining in areas more greatly affected by climate change. It is believed that the loss of ice in parts of the Antarctic peninsula has led to a decline in krill, which is, of course, one of the main food sources of the Adélie Penguin. Warmer temperatures can also cause Adélie chicks to hatch at inopportune times when food is scarce. 

Like all penguins, Adélies are adorable to look at and very amusing to watch. Standing approximately 27 inches tall and weighing between 8-12 lbs, it’s easy to think of them as cute and cuddly. But do not let that innocent, feathery exterior fool you - they can hold their own and have been known to take on seals, large seabirds, and visiting researchers! Good for them, we say - it’s tough out there! 


During the winter months, Adélie Penguins live on or very close to sea ice. In the warmer months, they breed on ice-free land. Naturally, this is rather tricky in Antarctica because less than 1% of the land here is ice-free. Their breeding season is October to February, which is springtime through summertime in the Southern Hemisphere. During that time, they live in large colonies of thousands of birds on the exposed rock around the Antarctic coast. 

Adélie Penguins build nests on sloping sites by making depressions in the ground, lining them with small stones to protect the eggs from water when the snow melts. True to their cheeky nature, they are known to steal rocks from their neighbours’ nests if there is a shortage! Both male and female Adélies take it in turns to sit on their eggs, ensuring they are kept warm and protected from predators. The males also help to guard and rear the chicks once they hatch in December. 

When it comes to feeding their new chicks, Adélie parents make their young chase them before regurgitating the krill for the chicks to eat! At around three weeks old, chicks are left alone. They all huddle together for warmth whilst their parents go in search of food. At 7-9 weeks, the chicks begin to swim and are ready to go out to sea. Typically, they will return to the breeding colony between the ages of 3-5 years. 


Featured Antarctica Expeditions with Adélie Penguins

To experience these delightful, tenacious little creatures in their natural habitat of Antarctica, take a look at our featured expeditions listed below. 

Classic Antarctica Cruise: MV Ushuaia

Departure: November-March

Enjoy the ideal introduction to Antarctica, where you’ll observe busy penguin colonies and spectacular seabirds as well as seals and whales amidst the imposing mountain ranges. Ice-filled channels, and beautifully shaped icebergs and glaciers make this cruise one you’ll never forget. Find out more here

Wake of Scott & Shackleton: Spirit of Enderby

Departure: January-March  

Explore Antarctica's seldom-seen and spectacular Ross Sea, with its incredible mountains, ice-shelves, abundant wildlife, and fascinating history. Find out more here

Ross Sea and Peninsula: MV Ortelius

Departure: January-March  

An epic 32-day adventure half way around Antarctica. MV Ortelius visits both the Peninsula and Ross Sea. Onboard helicopters are an amazing extra! Find out more here

Weddell Sea Quest: Mv Ushuaia 

Departure: January-February 

Explore the mountainous Antarctic Peninsula in this ice-bound region, echoing the ill fated expedition of great British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Find out more here.


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