Wednesday, July 13, 2011
Of the more than 10,000 species of birds on Earth, perhaps none are as pervasively popular with humans than penguins. Their comical waddle, devoted parenting behaviors, and ability to cannonball through water at top speed makes them irresistible to most of us, and appealing subject matter for books and films.
There are 18 different kinds of penguins, ranging from the smallest -- the Fairy or Little Blue Penguin -- to the largest -- the Emperor Penguin -- but all penguins live south of the Equator.
All species of penguins share certain characteristics. Penguins are flightless, and unlike many birds that have hollow bones to keep them light enough to remain airborne, penguins have solid bones. This gives them the added weight they need to dive effortlessly below the surface of the water.
Penguins also have an extremely dense coat of feathers that is sheathed with oil to keep them warm and waterproof. Their soft feathers overlap like shingles on a roof and are packed so tightly they almost look and feel like fur.
All penguins are adorned with a "tuxedo" of varying shades of black, gray and white, which many scientists believe serves a specific purpose. Black feathers along the back allow the penguin to blend in with the dark sea waters when viewed from above. White feathers along the belly combined with light filtering down through the water from above help camouflage the bird when viewed from below.
Unfortunately, penguins also share another characteristic: Their numbers are in rapid decline worldwide due to overfishing by the commercial fishing industry, loss of nesting sites, pollution and oil spills. Last year, African penguins, a species that makes its home along the rocky beaches of South Africa, were listed as endangered because their populations are declining so rapidly, it is possible they will be extinct in the wild within 10 years.
The National Aviary is working with other zoos to protect African penguins through the African Penguin Species Survival Plan breeding program. You can do your part by making sure you and your family choose sustainable seafood when dining out or grocery shopping. To learn more, contact the National Aviary at firstname.lastname@example.org and request a wallet-size brochure listing fish that are sustainable.