Are Penguins Smart?

As amazing as penguins are, we all have wondered from time to time: are penguins smart? While there is no measure of the intelligence of these fantastic birds, there are several habits and mannerisms of penguins that can classify them as quite smart and able to adapt to their surroundings.

From an evolutionary aspect, penguins have evolved to survive in some of the toughest weather conditions on planet Earth. Penguins display unique characteristics and intelligent social behaviors that show they are fairly smart birds.

While birds like parrots might learn to mimic human vocabulary, penguins stick to shrill sounds and barks to communicate and attract their mates. Penguins are also known to coordinate with other penguins when it comes to survival in the Antarctic winter. Let’s have a look at some of the smart behaviors displayed by penguins so that we can figure out if penguins are smart.

Penguins Are Seasonally Monogamous – Penguins are known to prefer the same mate every year during the breeding season. Once the breeding season is over and they have successfully raised their chicks, male and female penguin go their own way. But they return to the same location, and the female seeks out the male by recognizing the sounds he makes. Each penguin has a unique sound that allows them to locate each other.

In case either penguin fails to return, the other penguin will take on a new mate. This shows that penguins have the ability to remember their mate and the particular sounds it makes.

Penguins Are Smart As They Can Communicate With Each Other

Penguins Are Smart As They Can Communicate With Each Other

Penguins Exhibit Social Traits – Penguins are social animals and their survival depends on their social behaviors as well. Penguins will form huddles during cold winter months in the Antarctic and this helps them to survive the winds and the cold weather.

Gentoo penguins are also known to form rafts that comprise hundreds of penguins when swimming to catch fish. The raft formation helps the penguins to catch more fish by diving quickly and cornering fish as needed. It also shows that the penguins can communicate with each other to catch more fish.

Penguins Return To Same Rookeries Every Year – Once penguins select a place to breed, they return to the same place every year. Even if they are gone for a year or more, the males make it back to the rookeries earlier than the females. If the breeding location is not suitable because of the presence of predators or natural factors, the penguins will choose another place. These colonies can include up to a few thousand penguins.

Penguins Make Nests to Attract Mates – Creating a nest is an essential part of the mating ritual of penguins. It’s always the male penguin who will build a nest to attract a female. Some penguins build nests from stones and pebbles, while others will use branches or leaves to create a nest that will look most appealing to the female penguin.

The female penguin will often lie down in a few nests to see which one she finds most comfortable. Once she finds a nest that meets her requirements, she will bow down to the penguin and screech loudly which shows other penguins that she has chosen a mate. While emperor penguins and king penguins don’t build nests as such, they do mark out their territory with stones. Gentoo penguins will use rocks, pebbles, moss, and feathers to build their nests and make them as comfortable as possible.

Penguins Steal Rocks from Other Penguins – Penguins have an affinity for rocks that makes them do anything to get rocks. If the female penguins see a male penguin with rocks that they like, the female penguins will even offer sex in exchange for the rocks.

Smart Penguins Steal Rocks from Other Penguins

Smart Penguins Steal Rocks from Other Penguins

More often than not, the female penguin steals the rocks after making the male believe that she will have sex with him. Researchers have observed a female penguin stealing up to 60 rocks but they believe the final number could be more.

Penguins Approach Humans Without Fear – Most penguins don’t feel afraid of humans as they have become used to human presence close to their breeding grounds. They even approach researchers as they are curious by nature. Scientists have also found out that penguins don’t get stressed by human presence in their vicinity, but any attempts to capture the penguins raise their stress levels.

This kind of behavior goes on to show that penguins understand that humans are not a threat to them and they can approach humans without any harm. That said, excessive tourist presence can be detrimental for the mental and physical well-being of penguins as they often eat food that is not meant for them.


Penguins can definitely be called smarter than other animals as they show several behavioral and social traits that show their higher intelligence. By behaving socially and interacting with other penguins to find food, they show their intelligent traits. Penguins will work with other penguins to survive the harsh winter conditions.

Penguins also have a deep sense of ownership and recognition of what belongs to them. Female penguins will seek out their mate among a crowd of thousands of penguins by listening for a particular squawking pattern. Communication is also one of the intelligence showing traits displayed by the penguins. They will often bray or at each other and slap their feet to communicate.

So, what did you find the answer to the question is penguins smart? What are your thoughts about the intelligence of penguins? Do you know any behavior of penguins that shows they are smarter than other animals? Do share your thoughts or questions in the comments!



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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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