Are Penguins Birds?

Are penguins birds is a question that a surprising number of people ask the internet every day. Of course, regular visitors to Active Wild will already know the answer – we’ve talked about penguins here: Penguin Facts, and here: Antarctic Penguins.

For everyone else, we’ll provide the answer to the question are penguins birds on this page, and we’ll also provide lots of other penguin information …

Are Penguins Birds? The Answer

Birds Gentoo Penguins
These Gentoo Penguins are birds!

Are penguins birds? Yes, of course penguins are birds! Although they don’t fly, and look a little different to other birds, penguins exhibit all of the characteristics required to make them a bird!

But What Is A Bird?

To answer this question, we’ll start by looking at how living things are classified...

Animal Classification

Emperor Penguins with chicks
Emperor Penguins are birds that live in Antarctica

Scientists classify all living things into different groups. This makes studying living things easier, and also helps us to understand how species evolve. The largest groups are called ‘kingdoms’. There are at least five kingdoms; some scientific systems use six kingdoms.

Here is a list of the kingdoms of living things:

  • Monerans
  • Protists
  • Fungi
  • Plants
  • Animals

In America, the system is slightly different, and Monera are split into two groups: Archaea and Bacteria, making six kingdoms!

Every living thing can be placed into one of the kingdoms.

Penguins are in the Animal Kingdom. You can find out why on this page: Is a Bird an Animal?

Elephants, Snakes, Bumblebees … and Penguins

Chinstrap Penguins are birds
Chinstrap Penguins in Antarctica. Penguins are birds that have evolved to swim not in the sky, but in the water!

Also in the animal kingdom are many other species, such as elephants, snakes and bumblebees. Clearly all of these animals have very different characteristics. This is why each group is further divided into smaller groups, all the way down until we arrive at the individual species.

Each classification level (or rank) has a different name.

The rank after Kingdom is Phylum.

An example of a phylum is Chordata. Penguins are members of this Phylum, as are elephants and snakes.

However bumblebees do not possess the characteristics of this phylum, and are instead placed in the Arthropoda phylum. (Arthropods don’t have backbones, and have ‘exoskeletons’, which are external skeletons.)

The next rank down from phylum is class.

Elephants are placed in the Mammalia (mammal) class. Snakes find themselves in the Reptilia (reptile) class, while penguins are in the Aves (bird) class.

The Aves Class: Why Is A Penguin A Bird?

Southern Cassowary
The Southern Cassowary is the world's second heaviest, and third tallest, bird. Despite looking very unlike a penguin, it shares the characteristics that make them both members of the Aves (bird) class of animals. (Click on the photo to find out more about the Cassowary).

Characteristics of animals in the aves class – birds, in other words – include having feathers and beaks, lightweight skeletons and laying eggs with hard shells.

That sounds like a penguin!

Although penguins are flightless birds – i.e. they can’t fly – they still possess all of the characteristics necessary to categorise them as birds.

Whereas most birds have wings, the penguin’s wings have evolved into flippers. Penguins use their flippers to ‘fly’ through the water in pursuit of fish and other creatures.

The classification system doesn’t stop at classes. Members of each class are further divided into other ranks: order, family, genus and – finally – species.

(There are other ranks in between, but these are the main ones.)

Penguins are in the Sphenisciformes order, and the Spheniscidae family. This family includes several extinct species of penguin.

Bald Eagle soaring
The Bald Eagle is species of bird in the Accipitridae family.

Are Penguins Birds: Types Of Penguin

All of the penguins alive today are in the subfamily Spheniscinae, which is also known as the ‘modern penguin’ subfamily.

Modern penguins are divided into six genera (genera is the plural of genus).

How many penguin species are there? Well, that’s a good question! There are between 18 and 20 species of penguin, depending on which scientist you believe. Scientists’ opinions differ on whether some of the species listed below are actually separate species in their own right, or just subspecies of existing species.

Below you can find a current list of penguin genera and species:

Types Of Penguins

Great Penguins – Genus: Aptenodytes

  • King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)
  • Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

Brush-Tailed Penguins – Genus: Pygoscelis

  • Adélie Penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae)
  • Chinstrap Penguin (Pygoscelis antarctica)
  • Gentoo Penguin (Pygoscelis papua)

Little Penguins – Genus: Eudyptula

  • Little blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor)
  • White-flippered Penguin (Eudyptula albosignata)

Banded Penguins – Genus: Spheniscus

  • Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)
  • Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)
  • Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus)
  • African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus)

Genus: Megadyptes

  • Yellow-eyed Penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Crested Penguins – Genus: Eudyptes

  • Fiordland Penguin, (Eudyptes pachyrynchus)
  • Snares Penguin (Eudyptes robustus)
  • Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri)
  • Western rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes chrysocome)
  • Eastern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes filholi)
  • Northern rockhopper penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi)
  • Royal penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli)
  • Macaroni penguin (Eudyptes chrysolophus)

Are Penguins Birds? Conclusion

In this article we’ve found that penguins are birds. They have all of the defining characteristics of the Aves class.

Any animal that has feathers, a beak, a lightweight skeleton and that lays eggs is a bird. This means that animals as different as ostriches, hummingbirds and penguins are all birds.

In this article we’ve also found out about how animals are classified, and learned some of the ranks that biologists use to classify members of the animal kingdom.

In the future, if anyone asks you are penguins birds?, you’ll know the answer!

You can find out more about penguins here: Penguin Facts

Discover the penguins of Antarctica: Antarctic Penguins

Got more questions? Try this: Is a Bird an Animal?

Or this… Is a Frog a Reptile?