What Do Penguins Eat

Have you ever wondered what do penguins eat? The answer varies according to the species of penguin. Some penguins can dive deeper into the cold waters and hunt for food there, while others make do with the food that’s available close to the water’s surface.

Penguin diet includes different types of fish, krill, squid and more. The interesting part about the penguin diet is that it varies across the species. While some penguins are more inclined to eat fish, others eat fish and squid. Also, penguins are able to adapt their feeding patterns according to the availability of the food in their geographic area.

It is important to know more about the penguin diet as it can help researchers to figure out the eating habits of different penguin species. This research can also help in the rehabilitation of penguins and aid conservation efforts to save the penguins that eat only fish or krill.

What Does the Penguin Diet Include?

Penguins Eat Fish Near Water's Surface
Penguin swiming

The primary source of food for penguins is the sea. They are carnivores that follow piscivorous diets which means they mostly eat fish from the sea. As the fish present in the sea is rich in nutrients and minerals, penguins fulfill all their dietary requirements through fish and other small aquatic animals. Here are some of the common components of penguin diets.

  • Fish – Penguins need a growing fish population in the areas where they live so that they can survive and provide food for their young ones. Some of the fish species that penguins eat are anchovies, sardines, silverfish, sprats, mullets and more. Penguins also eat a variety of small fish depending on their location.
  • Crustaceans – Not all penguins maintain a fish-only diet, the penguins that are smaller in size depend on krill and different species of crustaceans. This includes shrimp and crabs that also form a component of the penguins’ diet.
  • Cephalopods – Larger penguins are able to dive down deeper into the sea to hunt for squid and cuttlefish that forms a small part of their diet. Penguins are skilled swimmers which makes it easy for them to hunt for quick-moving squids.

The diet of penguins also varies as per their size, their environment, and the availability of food sources. Penguins are also known to sample different types of prey, and they can change their feeding habits according to the food that is available in their immediate vicinity.

Penguin Feeding Habits

Penguins have several evolutionary advantages which makes them skilled hunters in the sea. They have excellent underwater eyesight and powerful swimming abilities which allow penguins to dive deep and fast to hunt for all kinds of fish and cephalopods.

Penguins often dive deep to hunt for food, and they can also travel great distances from their nesting sites when they are hunting. Emperor penguins are known for traveling 300-500 miles to hunt for several weeks.

The hunting tactics also vary from each species, for example, many penguins hunt in small groups while the yellow-eyed penguin is a solitary hunter. The hunting patterns also change with the weather, ocean currents, and several other factors.

When penguins undergo molting, they are not able to hunt for food and eat much. During molting, they lose their plumage which offers them protection from the cold temperatures in water and also acts as insulation.

Penguins are known to lose as much as 25-55 percent of their body weight during the molting periods. Most penguins hunt for long periods before and after their molting periods, and weight fluctuation in such cases is common.

Penguins eat their prey by swallowing it whole and storing it in the first chamber of their two-chambered stomach. The food gets digested in the gizzard and some of this food is regurgitated as food for the chicks. 

Why Do Penguins Swallow Stones?

Penguins Often Swallow Stones to aid Digestion
Penguins Often Swallow Stones to aid Digestion

Many penguins have been observed swallowing stones in their natural habitat. Species such as king penguins, rockhopper penguins, and macaroni penguins often swallow stones. There are many theories about the reasons why penguins swallow stones. First is that it helps them to reduce their buoyancy so that they can dive deeper while searching for food.

Another theory is that it helps them to feel less hungry when food is scarce or when they are not able to hunt for food because they are molting or taking care of their newborn chicks. Rockhopper penguins also swallow stones to help in digesting crustacean exoskeletons that form a part of their diet.


To sum up, if you want to know what do penguins eat, we hope this article has answered your question. Penguins mainly eat fish, krill, and cephalopods but their diet can vary depending on their location, availability of food and the weather in their region.

Many times, penguins go on long foraging trips far from their nesting place and these trips can last for weeks. Penguin chicks eat food that is regurgitated by their parents, and it is a mixture of fish that is full of nutrients useful for the chick’s growth.

If you have any more questions about the penguin diet or their feeding habits, please leave a comment, and we’ll answer it to the best of our abilities.






Image source:

  1. Penguin swiming by webandi / Pixabay License
  2. Penguins Often Swallow Stones to aid Digestion by StockSnap / Pixabay License

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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