Adelie Penguin

Scientific name: Pygoscelis adeliae

Adelie penguins have a large population that numbers between 4 and 5 million adult birds.
Adelie penguins have a large population that numbers between 4 and 5 million adult birds. Photo © Patrick Endres / Getty Images.

The Adelie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) is the most familiar of all Antarctic penguin species. The Adelie was named after Adélie d'Urville—the wife of French polar explorer, Dumont d'Urville. Adelie penguins are on average smaller than all other species of penguins.

Adelie penguins are known to form large colonies, sometimes consisting of more than 200,000 pairs of birds. They breed on rocky coasts and islands where each mating pair constructs a nest made out of stones.

In early November, the female lays two light-green eggs and the parents take turns incubating the egg and foraging for food in the sea.

The color pattern of Adelie penguins is the classic penguin pattern. Adelie penguins have a bright white belly and chest which contrasts sharply with their black back, wings, and head. Adelie penguins are easily distinguished by the white rings around their eyes. The plumage of both males and females is similar.

The Adelie penguin population is considered stable and is perhaps increasing. Birdlife International estimates that there are between 4 and 5 million adult Adelie penguins. Since the Adelie population is dependent on the abundance of krill in the seas surrounding Antarctica, scientists use these birds as an indicator species to gauge the health of the waters around the earth's southernmost landmass.

Adelie penguins feed mostly on Antarctic krill but also supplement their diet with small fish and cephalopods.

The Adelie penguin breeding season begins in early spring and lasts through summer. They lay usually 2 eggs per nest and the eggs take between 24 and 39 days to hatch. The young birds fledge after 28 days on average.

Adelie penguins inhabit rocky coasts, ice floes, and islands along the coastline of Antarctica.

They forage in the waters surrounding Antarctica. Their distribution is circumpolar.

Size and Weight

About 18 to 24 inches tall and 8 to 12 pounds


Animals > Chordates > Vertebrates > Tetrapods > Amniotes > Birds > Penguins > Adelie penguin


Penguins are most closely related to grebes and divers. The ancestors of penguins could fly but at some point in their evolution they stopped flying and instead acquired characteristics more suited for a life of swimming and diving.