Are Penguins Omnivores?

When we speak about birds, they are commonly omnivores. But there are few exceptions like eagle and penguin. Eagles and penguins are carnivore birds. Carnivore birds eat only meat. Penguins’ diet includes a variety of fish, squid, and krill.

Omnivore birds eat both plants and meat. Fish, insects, dead animal stuff, algae and vegetation fall in the diet list of omnivore birds. Even though penguins live in the marine included by vegetation, they normally don’t eat the plants.

Penguins usually consume small fishes, squid, and krill (which are small crustaceans). The variety of food that covers the seafood depends on the region and availability of the prey. Some small variety of penguins consumes mainly krill, small squids and small fishes.

All the 17 species of living penguins have different food preferences depending on their physique and availability of prey.

Emperor penguin couple and chick

Emperor penguin couple and chick

Features and characters are the reason for being carnivores

Penguins have a thick bill (beak) and jaws with spiny tongue and throat that can crush the prey to swallow. Almost all the penguin species eat the food underwater in one swallow. Some ingest the sea water along with their prey.

Since the features of the penguins are strong enough to eat the small marine animals, they tend to be carnivores. Also, since the penguin’s ancestors originated from colder regions, they need to keep up their body temperature to survive the frigid atmosphere.

To avoid the heat loss, penguins need to intake a lot of meat that contains oil and other nutrients to form fat in their body though they have the blubber (fat) covering over the body.

The bulky species of penguins like emperor penguin, king penguin, gentoo penguin, and Adelie penguin requires a lot of food when compared to other small species of penguins.

Adelie penguins are said to consume above 1 million metric tons of krill, 100,000 metric tons of fish and 3,000 metric tons of squid every single year. Small sized penguins feed on schooling fish, krill and squid.

Penguins undergo a fasting period each year. During that period they need to fast. To survive in the cold they have to eat food in large quantity to make a fit survival to build the fat layer.

Also, some researchers say that the shape of the bill also depends on the type of prey they prefer. Some species of penguins that have long and hooked beak mostly eat fish and the short-beaked species eat krill varieties and squid.

Species of penguins and their preferences of meaty food:

Huge penguins like emperor penguin and king penguin travel deeper to the ocean to prey on anchovies, sardines, and other small fishes.

Small species of penguins eat the krill that surfaces the water during the particular season and they naturally find hard to dive deeper the ocean.

Variety of meat that penguins consume:

Penguins eat Fish varieties such as anchovies, sardines, silverfish, mullets, lantern fish, pilchards and sprats.

Some large species of penguins eat Cephalopods like cuttlefish and squid that are available in the deeper ocean.

Small penguins eat crustaceans like krill, shrimp, and sometimes few species of penguins eat crab occasionally.

Stones and the diet:

There is a surprising fact that penguins swallow stones. Even though the exact reason behind penguin swallowing the stones is unresolved, researchers suspect that certain species of penguins swallow stones to enrich the digestion and to dive deeper.

Penguins that swallow stones are mostly seen common in the king, macaroni and rockhopper species.

Diet of different penguins:

  • King and emperor penguins’ diet consists primarily of fish followed by squid and krill.
  • Adelie, chinstrap and Gentoo penguins prey on silverfish, squid, and krill.
  • African penguin consumes fish and squid.
  • Galapagos, Magellanic, Humboldt, and African penguins include sardines, cuttlefish and crustaceans (include crab, krill, shrimp and lobsters).
  • Crested penguins prey on krill, small octopus, crustaceans, and squid.

Penguins drink salt water since they live only in salt water and none of the species of penguins live in freshwater. There is a special gland in the bill that filters the salt water.

Krill a small crustacean species that fall in the diet list of penguins

Krill a small crustacean species that fall in the diet list of penguins

Reasons for penguins being carnivores:

Every animal that fasts for a long duration are naturally a meat eater. Without them being carnivore they cannot survive. Since penguins fast every year during molting and also during incubating and breeding season, their body needs a good amount of nutrients that help them stay adapted.

Also since penguins are warm-blooded they need to eat in a large portion and by consuming plants they cannot achieve in maintaining the temperature. Meat can provide them enough energy to combat the cold and support the blood flow in the body. Thus, penguin’s biology has created as a carnivore bird.


If penguins were omnivores, it would only help their biology to work partially. Penguins are flexible over choosing their prey concerning their situations like climatic changes and that leads in the surviving ability of the species.

Most species of penguins eat the krill and squid that surface is allowing the availability of fishes under the deeper ocean for the big fishes. Penguins’ diet includes a lot of fat and protein which plants cannot offer them and hence the penguins are pure carnivores.


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I got interested in penguins from a young age and as I grew I realized that penguins are such fascinating birds. I made it a mission to create a website where all information about penguins could be accessed in an easy to read format.

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