Most penguins have a white breast and a black back and head. Several species exhibit red, orange, or yellow patches on the head and neck. Because their short legs are placed far back on their bodies, penguins assume an upright posture.
Penguins are grouped into 18 species and 6 genera, most of which are found in Antarctica and on subantarctic islands. Others are native to the coasts of Australia, South Africa, and South America, and the Galápagos Islands.
Penguins usually walk or hop and toboggan along on their breasts, pushing with wings and feet. They swim with great speed and agility. The flippers are their sole means of propulsion; the feet are trailed behind or used in steering. Some species progress by porpoising, which is swimming underwater some distance, emerging in a graceful arc to take a fresh breath, and submerging again. Penguins feed on fish, cuttlefish, crustaceans, and other small sea animals. In captivity the king and emperor penguins normally do not learn to pick up their own food, and after they have been taught to feed by strenuous forced feeding they must be fed by hand each day.
Penguins are gregarious birds and are found in flocks even at sea. On land the colonies often number in the hundreds of thousands. Although the birds have suffered greatly at the hands of humans, who have slaughtered great numbers for their blubber and, more recently, for their skins, the inaccessibility of the Antarctic region has helped preserve the group. Natural enemies of the penguin include leopard seals, killer whales, and, in the case of young chicks and eggs, skuas.
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