Penguins are one of about 40 species of flightless birds. Other flightless birds include rheas, cassowaries, kiwis, ostriches, and emus. Most flightless birds live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Most scientists agree that there are 17 species of penguins. Of the 17 species, 13 are either threatened or endangered, with some on the brink of extinction. The Erect-crested Penguin (Eudyptes sclateri) has lost approximately 70% of its population over the last 20 years. The Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mendiculus) has lost over 50% since the 1970s, and their chance of becoming extinct this century is 30%. The most common threats to all penguin survival are pollution, loss of habitat by human encroachment, commercial fishing, oil dumping, algae blooms, and global warming.
Penguin nesting areas are called “rookeries” and may contain thousands of pairs of birds. Each penguin has a distinct call, which allows individual penguins to find their mates and chicks even in the largest groups.
Penguins are highly social birds. Even at sea, penguins usually swim and feed in groups. Some penguin colonies on Antarctica are huge and can contain 20 million or more penguins at various times during the year. Most penguins swim underwater at around four to seven miles per hour (mph), but the fastest penguin—the gentoo (Pygoscelis papua)—can reach top speeds of 22 mph!
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