How do penguins communicate?

Probably penguin vocalizations are not as popular as cow mooing, dog barking or cat meowing. However, as social birds, penguins need to communicate in some way, and they do it through sounds and body expressions.

But, do they have to transmit information? Sure, they need to do it if they want to contact their colony mates, want to mate with a female, need to demonstrate strength or they need to take care of their offspring. As we do, the way they communicate depends on the situation, the need and naturally, the species.


On land, penguins are very noisy, which can be observed watching videos of penguin colonies. Specialized structures in their throat emit these vocalization sounds that sound like squawking or a high-pitch braying, very different from those produced by other birds. Penguins that belong to the gender Aptenodytes produce sounds with the syrinx, a particular organ for that purpose.

Communication of penguins.

Vocalization of a chick emperor penguin.

Penguins have an extensive repertoire of vocalizations that use according to the situation. An important thing to know is that each penguin produces a unique sound easily identifiable by other penguins; therefore, a mother or father can easily find their chicks by recognizing the sounds they emit. Chicks, in the same way, can identify their parents by hearing their calls.

Scientists have recognized at least three types of calls: contact, threats and sexual.

Scientists have recognized at least three types of calls. The first, contact vocalizations, is used to distinguish other members of the colony; the second, threat vocalization, is used to defend their territory and warn the other penguins in the colony about the proximity of a predator; and the third is used to transmit sexual, territorial or individual recognition information. This last call is the most complex.

Those living in huge colonies issue frequent contact vocalizations to call their partners or their offspring. Vocalizations of males and females differ from each other, presumably because the former tend to have a dominant role during the courtship. Usually, males are the ones who start calling the ladies, and they use the vocalization as a guide to finding the emitter of the sound. Lower-pitch vocalizations are more attractive to females as they might come from larger penguins.


Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) use a ” two-sound system” to recognize each other; this means that they use two frequency bands simultaneously. The chicks emit vocalizations similar to a whistle to ask for food and contact their parents.

King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) also use the “two-sound system.” To call their chicks in the middle of a huge and noisy colony, they emit repetitively vocalizations at different intensity and using two frequencies.

The most common call among African penguins (Spheniscus demersus) is like a braying that can have various “accents.”

Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis Papua) are more peaceful than other species, but they are also more vocal and noisy. Their courtship calls are the most elaborate and intense, issued for several consecutive days.

Calls of penguins.

Couple of lovely King Penguins in Hokkaido, Japan

Visual communication.

Penguins use body movements to send and receive messages. They tend to communicate through a combination of vocal and visual signals; typically emitting vocalizations and making body movements at the same time to communicate; a posture or movement of head, neck or wings accompanies each vocalization.

Many species “flap” their flippers, wave their beaks or bend their necks down or sideways. For example, during the courtship process both penguins bow, which decreases the tension between them and reduces the risk of aggression. Adelie penguins (Pygoscelis adeliae) usually are more static. Meanwhile, if an emperor penguin extends its flippers outward and raises its beak, it indicates other penguins that he wants to avoid a confrontation when passing through a large penguin colony, which may misinterpret its intentions.




World of Animals Magazine. Issue 04. Imagine publishing.

BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.




(Visited 3,067 times, 2 visits today)