Special-interest holidays worldwide
Island Holidays
Established 1987

The Polar Regions

Whether in Antarctica or the Arctic, expedition voyages take you to remote, unspoilt places with amazing scenery, wildlife and history. Island Holidays offers both land-based holidays and expedition cruises. View our Arctic and Antarctic expedition cruises

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South Atlantic Islands

We're talking about some of the most remote places on Earth – St Helena (to which we offer both fully guided tours and independent travel), the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha to name but a few. View our South Atlantic Islands cruise holidays

Featured Favourites

Over many years Island Holidays has been offering fantastic birding, wildlife and history themed holidays, some of which have stood out as being really very special. Some are close to home, some far-flung, all of them favourite! View our favourite guided holiday destinations

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Subantarctic and Antarctic Penguins

There are officially seventeen recognised species of penguin but, perhaps surprisingly, just eight of them exist in subantarctic or antarctic latitudes and, of those, only six are present on Antarctica itself. They fall into four different genera, but each species has its own particular characteristics to look out for. Here they are for you, listed alphabetically.

Adélie Penguin

An Adélie penguin

Scientific name

Pygoscelis adeliae

Distinguishing features

Jet black head and back, pure white front and pink feet. Its eyes have a fine white ring around them and black feathers cover a large part of its dark pink bill.

Distribution

The Antarctic coastline.

Conservation status

Near Threatened.

Named after the wife of Dumont d'Urville, the French Antarctic explorer, Adélies live only along the coast of Antarctica. There are an estimated 2.5 million pairs that congregate into breeding colonies of many hundreds of thousands from October to February. They build nests with piles of stones and lay two eggs around mid-November. The eggs are cared for by both parents and hatch in late December. Chicks join a crèche at three weeks but typically less than two-thirds of them make it to this stage. By March the juveniles are already at sea along with their parents. Adélie penguins stand around 70cm tall and can live more than 16 years, feeding on krill, silverfish and squid.

Adélies feature in the majority of our Antarctic cruises. You can also see them on our Antarctic Odyssey.

Chinstrap Penguin

Chinstrap penguins

Scientific name

Pygoscelis antarctica

Distinguishing features

A white face and neck, intersected by an unmistakable thin black line running from ear to ear. Dark red eyes and a short, black bill.

Distribution

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctic islands such as the South Shetlands and the South Orkneys and subantarctic islands such as the South Sandwich Islands, South Georgia and Bouvet Island.

Conservation status

Least Concern.

Found on Antarctica and many Antarctic islands, the Chinstrap penguin is probably the most abundant penguin in the Antarctic region. An estimated population of eight million breeding pairs is concentrated on the Antarctic Peninsula alone. Chinstraps tend to live close to their breeding grounds. They build circular nests with stones on snow-free slopes and lay two eggs in late November. Incubation is shared by both parents and the chicks hatch in early January. After about a month in the nest they join a crèche and by March have usually fledged. Breeding pairs form a strong bond and return every year to the same nest site. Chinstraps live for up to 20 years and their diet consists of krill, shrimp and fish.

Due to their abundance you can see Chinstrap penguins in all of our expedition cruises to Antarctica.

Emperor Penguin

A group of Emperor penguins

Scientific name

Aptenodytes forsteri

Distinguishing features

Black head with orange ear patches merging to pale yellow neck and chest. Very large, standing at well over one metre tall, but with proportionally smaller bills and wings than other penguins.

Distribution

The Antarctic coastline.

Conservation status

Near Threatened.

Endemic to Antarctica, the Emperor penguin is the largest of all penguins and the fifth heaviest living bird species. Adults typically attain a height of around 1.20m and can weigh 40kg or more. It is the least common Antarctic penguin, with up to 600,000 birds living all around the Antarctic continent. It is the only penguin species that breeds in the Antarctic winter, gathering in breeding colonies of many thousands where each male incubates a single egg balanced on its feet. They huddle together for warmth and shuffle around so each gets a turn on the outside. Both the male and female rear their chick. Emperors feed on fish, crustaceans and cephalopods and typically live for up to 20 years.

Emperor penguin rookeries are a highlight of our Antarctic Emperor Penguin Voyage expedition cruise.

Gentoo Penguin

Scientific name

Pygoscelis papua

Distinguishing features

A single white stripe from eye to eye runs across the top of its head. An orangy-red bill, bright orange feet and a prominent tail.

Distribution

The Antarctic coast and throughout the subantarctic region.

Conservation status

Near Threatened.

Gentoos are the third largest penguin species but are also one of the least numerous in the Antarctic, with only an estimated 300,000 breeding pairs. Adults measure up to 90 cm in height and weigh on average around 6 kg, though the overall size of those living in northern regions is significantly larger than that of those in more southerly latitudes. Since Gentoo populations tend to be more dispersed than other penguins their breeding colonies normally comprise no more than a few hundred pairs. Their nesting sites often shift slightly from year to year though the bond between pairs is strong and long-lasting. They build their nests with whatever they can gather, normally pebbles or sticks, on coastal areas or low hilltops. Two eggs are laid and the parents share incubation and rearing.

You can see Gentoo penguins on the majority of our cruises to Antarctica and other tours that include stages in the Antarctic, such as our South Atlantic Odyssey. They also feature in all our tours of the Falklands.

King Penguin

King penguin adults and chicks

Scientific name

Aptenodytes patagonicus

Distinguishing features

Intense yellow-orange ears and neck. Large but not quite as tall or heavy as the Emperor.

Distribution

Northern fringes of Antarctica, subantarctic islands, the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego.

Conservation status

Least Concern

The second largest penguin species, adult King penguins weigh in at about 16kg and stand just under 1m tall. They prefer warmer climes to their closest relative the Emperor and in fact rarely coexist with them. They breed on subantarctic islands and, unlike Emperors, the parents share the task of incubating the egg. At around 6 months the chicks form crèches which are guarded by a few adults so that parents can hunt for food. The long overall breeding cycle (14 to 16 months) means that King penguins usually produce only one chick every two years, despite attempting to breed annually. King penguins eat fish and squid and are excellent divers, capable of reaching depths well over 200m.

You can see King penguins on any of our tours of the Falkland Islands or South Atlantic Odyssey cruises.

Macaroni Penguin

A Macaroni penguin

Scientific name

Eudyptes chrysolophus

Distinguishing features

Distinctive bright yellow-orange feathery crest and a large, bulbous orange-brown bill.

Distribution

Subantarctic islands from South Africa across to the Antarctic peninsula and to the tip of South America.

Conservation status

Vunerable.

Named after a mid-18th century flambouyant English fashion (maccaroni), the Macaroni is the most abundant species of penguin, with a estimated 12 million breeding pairs. They inhabit both subantarctic and Antarctic islands and, to a much lesser extent, the Antarctic Peninsula, where there is just one rookery. Macaronis are well know for their tightly packed colonies of many thousands, where social interaction is high and includes a wide range of sounds and displays. They breed in late October, nesting on rocky coastlines and low cliffs. Nests are formed from stones, pebbles or even a clump of grass. Although two eggs are laid, the first is significantly smaller, takes longer to incubate and yet very rarely hatches. Despite this, their breeding success rate is more stable than other penguin species.

Macaroni penguins can be seen on our expedition cruises that visit South Georgia, for example our Falklands, South Georgia & Antarctic Peninsula cruise or our South Atlantic Odyssey.

Magellanic Penguin

Magellanic penguins

Scientific name

Spheniscus magellanicus

Distinguishing features

Its black face is circled by a white band running from eye to eye. Another white band arches from one foot to the other along the sides of the abdomen and across its chest.

Distribution

The Falkland Islands and the coasts of Argentina and Chile.

Conservation status

Near Threatened.

Named after the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, Magellanic penguins are the most numerous of their genus. Adults measure around 70cm in length and weigh on average 4kg. They are much less colonial than other penguin species, nesting in burrows where possible or below bushes. Two eggs are laid and incubation over 40 days is shared by the parents. After hatching, chicks spend another month in the nest before their juvenile feathers have grown. Unlike many other penguin species, chicks do not form crèches since nesting in burrows means they are relatively safe from predators and bad weather (except floods). Despite their healthy population in South America, Magellanics are highly vunerable to oil spills along the Argentinian coast and commercial fishing, particularly around the Falkland Islands.

See Magellanic penguins on Carcass Island and Saunders Island in the Falklands.

Southern Rockhopper Penguin

Scientific names

Two subspecies: Eudyptes chrysocome chrysocome (Western Rockhopper) and Eudyptes chrysocome filholi (Eastern Rockhopper)

Distinguishing features

A pale yellow feathery crest. Deep red eyes and a stubbier, more orange bill than Macaronis.

Distribution

Western Rockhopper: the tip of South America and surrounding islands, including the Falklands. Eastern Rockhopper: subantarctic islands of the Indian and western Pacific oceans.

Conservation status

Vunerable.

Southern Rockhoppers are one of the smallest species of penguin, measuring approximately 50cm in length and weighing on average 3kg. Despite this, they are also one of the most fearless and aggressive! Their population is estimated at one million pairs worldwide, of which two thirds are the Western subspecies (E. c. chrysocome). In the early 1980s there were around 2.5 million breeding pairs in the Falklands alone, but this number has been greatly diminished by commercial fishing. As their name suggests, they prefer to try jumping to avoid obstacles rather than awkwardly sliding or climbing. Although this behaviour is not unique to this species, it was the first of its genus to be observed by early explorers.

See Southern Rockhoppers on either of our guided Ascension & Falklands or Falklands Photographic tours.