How Smart Are Penguins?
Comparison With Other Animals!

Did you know that penguins are much more than what their cuddly appearance gives away? Read to learn about how smart penguins are!

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David A. Swanson

September 15, 2021

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What’s This Post About?

There isn’t any comparison between humans and animals. However, some animals can learn, reason, and communicate more or less like humans. You may have heard about how clever dolphins, dogs, and apes are, but did you know penguins also rank high on the list?

Penguins are famous for their sharp appearance. Their waddling movement and distinctive black and white outlook, which gives them the impression of a flock of dinner coats, have long been admired. However, researchers have found that birds aren’t all about their looks; they also have brilliant minds.

Penguins are intriguing creatures for many reasons. They are intelligent, competent, and self-aware beings that can be coached and conditioned. They’re also great at making mental maps, recognizing each other’s calls, and hunting in groups .


Penguins Are Smarter Than We Thought!

From a young age, penguins exhibit traits of intelligence. In fact, they need those qualities to perform the daily activities of going about their day. Hunting, navigation, and a present mind are all qualities that are beneficial to the animal.


The penguins’ sense of direction is a remarkable ability that indicates advanced intellect. It is because the penguins have a great memory and can retain their environment and visual cues.

Even at ten months old, king penguin babies may return from a third of a mile distant to a square-meter area in a large colony. The birds use visual clues such as rivers and hillsides and noises from the colonies to return home.


Adelie and Chinstrap penguins can identify the same nesting location year after year by combining good memory and navigating the desolate Antarctic tundra. This is much more amazing when you realize that the colonies have penguins in thousands.


To communicate and attract mates, penguins use loud noises and barking. The female penguin will try out a few different nests made by males trying to lure her and will then evaluate which one she prefers.

Later, she will kneel to the male penguin and shriek loudly after she has found a nest that suits her needs, signaling to other penguins that she has made her choice.


Further, the ‘cocktail party effect’ refers to the concept of being in a loud gathering yet being able to hear your mate’s speech through the noise. At least three species of penguins share this feature with humans. They can filter out background noise and focus on only what you need to hear.

King Penguins, in committed partnerships, take turns incubating and hunting. Despite the commotion and nearly identical looks, they can identify their mate’s whereabouts. This is because of the penguins’ capacity to recognize and localize their spouse’s voice in a swarm of hundreds. It also demonstrates that penguins have a strong feeling of belonging and identification of what is theirs.

Seasonal Monogamy


During the mating season, penguins are believed to choose the same partner year after year. Male and female penguins separate once the mating season is complete and they have effectively reared their young.

However, they come to the same area, and the female recognizes the male’s noises and seeks him out.

Each penguin has its own distinct sound that allows them to communicate with one another. If one of the penguins does not return, the other will find a new partner.

This demonstrates that penguins can recall their mate and the noises that they produce. It is evidence of their great memory, communication, and decision-making skills.



Penguins hunt in groups and employ teamwork to obtain fish. It has been discovered that gathering on the water’s surface is three times more productive than solitary hunting. As gregarious animals, penguins have acquired interpersonal skills to solve complicated issues in groups.

This hunting strategy necessitates “rapid information processing”. For example, penguins may be seen communicating to the rest of the flock. This includes predicting where the fish would go and how to capture them, and implementing flock members’ rapidly shifting emotions and cues.

Sense of Community and Responsibility


Both parents of African penguins share all childcare duties. They take turns nursing their eggs for around 40 days while the other parent goes food foraging or defends the home from intruders. This shows how both parents have taken responsibility for the child and can divide tasks between them.

Several parents gather their young together in a “crèche” once they have hatched and are ready to move so that lesser parents are required to guard them.

Juveniles are mature enough to hunt for themselves after about four months in this crèche. Then they are sent out into the open to survive on their own.

Sense of Loyalty


African penguins are natural romantics. Each year, African penguins travel to the exact nesting location, where partners restore their previous pair connection. If their partner dies or does not return during the mating season, they will then only start looking for a new companion.


About 90 percent of all breeding couples of African penguins remain together for the rest of their lives.

Hurdling Up In Winter


Emperor penguins have developed a social behavior in which they snuggle together in groups of thousands of penguins when it becomes chilly. As a result, penguins are constantly moving from the outside to the center of the group. They shift the warmer and better-sheltered penguins to the outside, where they will take their place in the worst positions against the freezing wind.

Sound Judgment

Penguins do not give in to fear easily like other animals. This is especially if the penguin has encountered a particular activity before. However, they are smart enough to remain calm in case it happens again.

For example, as they are accustomed to human presence near their breeding sites, most penguins are not scared of humans. They often approach investigators since they are naturally intrigued. Researchers have also shown that penguins are often unaffected by human activity in their environment.

This type of action demonstrates that penguins are animals that stay self-aware and present-minded. They remember that people are not a danger to them and that they may approach them safely. There have also been instances where the penguins have remained calm when they’ve encountered an oil spill for the second time.


Efforts to catch the penguins can cause them to become agitated.

Manipulation and Deception

Not the best quality, but manipulation can also be taken as a form of intelligence. According to some researchers, female penguins have been known to deceive male penguins on occasion. They perform a complex courting ritual that typically results in mating. They would then flee after securing their stone.


Stones are considered a valuable currency in the penguin world. Therefore, the male with the most amount of rocks is most likely to be able to lure a penguin.

Both the genders have their own set of reasons for this. It is speculated that the female penguins could be sizing up prospective future partners in case their current spouse perished before the next mating season. In comparison, the lone male penguins appeared to be motivated only by their own pleasure.

Regardless of the reason, both partners are willing to engage in tradeoffs to satisfy personal gains says a lot about their minds!

Other Features And Adaptions


A penguin’s excellent memory, navigation, or learning skills are not the only thing that displays their intelligence. The way penguins conduct themselves is also proof of their cleverness. Numerous behaviors and mannerisms can describe them as intelligent and adaptable to their surroundings.

Walking On An Empty Stomach

Would you believe us if we said penguins walk more efficiently than us? When penguins move, the top of their bodies operates like a pendulum, requiring only a tiny amount of energy to revolve with each stride. On the other hand, every time we take a step, we must somewhat raise our entire body.


Penguins' swaying helps them to restore up to 80% of the energy they spend.



To guarantee waterproofing and insulation, penguins must keep their feathers in good condition. Penguins groom themselves regularly. Penguins have a special gland that secretes oil near the base of the penguin’s tail.

It spreads the oil throughout its feathers with its bill. Then, they spin and turn in the water for many minutes while stroking their bodies with their flippers.



Cone cells at the rear of our eyes detect specific types of light and allow us to see color. Red, blue, and green cones are the three cones that humans use to view the primary colors. Penguins have an additional cone in their eyes that allows them to perceive ultraviolet light.

Technically, our UHD TVs would be just as harmful to them as old black and white TVs were to us.

Underwater vision


The eyes of a penguin are designed to see underwater. Strong muscles around penguins’ eyes compress their corneas, preventing light from distorting as it reaches their eyes and distorting the vision underwater.

They also have a nictitating membrane, which is an additional transparent eyelid that keeps seawater out. It’s almost as if they’re always wearing a diving mask.

Feeding Habits

Compared to humans, penguins have extremely few taste buds, and they lack the DNA necessary to detect bitterness, sweetness, and savories. They can taste salty or sour, which is significant since these are the flavors they need to differentiate a rotten fish from a fresh one.

Penguins Compared To Other Animals


For so many years, parrots and other corvids such as ravens and crows have been researched for their intelligence. As a result, it isn’t easy to compare the intellect of penguins, which has just recently been examined, to that of these other species.

Penguins vs. Crows

In general, experts believe that crows are the most intelligent birds on the earth. Even more, some scientists believe that crows are the brightest animals on the planet. This is because crows can solve issues, devise innovative solutions, and even forecast the future.

Furthermore, their brain-to-body-weight ratio is comparable to that of giant apes and whales.

Crows, like penguins, have a strong common bond. But where does the distinction lie? Crows utilize teamwork to attack, whereas penguins use it to keep warm, protect themselves, and watch for predators.

Crows are cunning and cooperative hunters who often work in pairs, distracting their prey while the other grabs an egg or a young mammal. Penguins, however, hunt as a community, with all of them directing each other towards potential prey.

Regardless of the motivation, deceiving, hunting, and communicating in this manner requires a high level of intelligence.

Penguins vs. Parrots

A parrot’s brain is more advanced and functional than cognitive animals such as apes, elephants, and dolphins. All parrots have talents such as flight navigation, communication, social connections, problem-solving, and adaptation in their small yet strong bird brain.

Parrots may be smaller in size than penguins but have abilities that match intelligence. They render the expression ‘bird brain’ useless. You would no longer call your friends that if you knew how intelligent birds could be.

We thought it was fascinating that penguins weren’t scared of human interactions. Parrots take it a step further. The ability of parrots to replicate human speech is not only amusing but also impressive.

Even though parrots do not have lips and teeth, they can memorize words, short sentences, melodies, and mimic tone and expression.

Penguins vs. Pigeons

Just like penguins, pigeons also have abilities that help them navigate. Carrier pigeons use compass and map mechanisms to assist them in finding their way back home. They can fly in the proper direction thanks to the compass mechanism. On the other hand, it helps pigeons compare where they are to where they want to go.

Having navigation abilities does not mean that they can go anywhere. Because pigeons have a good memory, they remember streets, signs, and other visual cues that help them retain directions. They may only go back to one ‘mentally branded’ area they have selected as their hometown.

Penguins vs. Cockatoos

Penguins lure their mate through their collections of stones. Cockatoo’s way of attracting their mates is different. Male Australian palm cockatoos form drumsticks out of twigs and seed pods during courting. Each bird has its unique sound, which they develop by pounding their tools on hollow trunks.

According to experts, these birds can follow a beat too. They found that cockatoos had a sense of harmony and rhythm by speeding up and down a song.


Keep Reading!

Penguins may undoubtedly be described as smarter than other animals since they exhibit several behavioral and social characteristics that demonstrate their superior intellect.

They show their intelligence as they behave socially with other penguins to obtain food, fight the extreme weather, and take care of their young.

They have a great memory and can navigate. If you’re interested to know about other birds, here’s a post you can read to find out how pigeons navigate and decide whose skills are more remarkable!

The Fascinating Reason Messenger Pigeons Know Where to Go

Amazed at how a messenger pigeon knows exactly where to go? They have fascinating navigation abilities that you should know about!

David A. Swanson Picture

By David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!

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David A. Swanson Picture

David A. Swanson

Bird Watching USA

My name is David and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!



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