Photo: Close-up of a penguin.

These gregarious marine birds are among the world's smallest penguins, standing about 20 inches (50 centimeters) tall.

Photograph by Michel Gunther, Photolibrary

Map

Map: Rockhopper range

Rockhopper Penguin Range

Fast Facts

Type:
Bird
Diet:
Carnivore
Average life span in the wild:
10 years
Size:
22 in (55 cm)
Weight:
4.4 to 6.6 lbs (2 to 3 kg)
Group name:
Colony
Protection status:
Vulnerable
Did you know?
Rockhopper penguins often burst from the water near shore and land on rocks with a belly flop.
Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Illustration: Penguin compared with adult man

Rockhopper penguins are distinguished by the irreverent crest of spiky yellow and black feathers that adorns their head.

Biologists left little ambiguity about this species’ preferred habitat when assigning its name. Rockhoppers are found bounding—rather than waddling, as most other penguins do—among the craggy, windswept shorelines of the islands north of Antarctica, from Chile to New Zealand.

These gregarious marine birds are among the world's smallest penguins, standing about 20 inches (50 centimeters) tall. They have blood-red eyes, a red-orange beak, and pink webbed feet.

During annual breeding times, rockhoppers gather in vast, noisy colonies, often numbering in the hundreds of thousands, to construct burrows in the tall tussock grasses near shore. They return to the same breeding ground, and often to the same nest, each year, and usually seek out their previous year's mate.

Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, aggressively pecking at anything, big or small, that may stray too close.

Rockhoppers ply the frigid waters of their range using strong, narrow, flipper-like wings for propulsion. They usually stick to the shallows, but are capable of diving up to 330 feet (100 meters) in pursuit of fish, crustaceans, squid, and krill.

These penguins are among the most numerous on the planet, but their population is in rapid decline. Colonies on the Falkland Islands were once the largest anywhere, but commercial overfishing, pollution, and other factors have cut the penguins' numbers by 90 percent. Breeding colonies on other islands are in trouble as well, and some estimates say rockhopper penguins have declined by more than 30 percent over the past 30 years.

They are listed as vulnerable by the IUCN, and if declines continue, they are likely to be uplisted to endangered in the near future.

Bird Features

  • Photo: Atlantic puffin

    Atlantic Puffin

    Get to know this coastal bird with the colorful beak. Learn more about the amazing “sea parrot.”

  • Illustration: Great horned owl

    What's That Bird?

    Identify your backyard visitors in a flash! Just answer four simple questions to search our database of 150 backyard birds common to Canada and the U.S.

  • Photo: A brown pelican

    Pelican

    Explore the pelican’s prodigious pouch. Find out how these famous fishers bring home the catch of the day.

  • Photo: Close-up of a duck

    Bird Pictures

    Get right up close to 12 colorful new bird galleries, featuring photos from My Shot members and classic art from the NG archives.

Animals

From the Magazine

  1. Photo: Two adult preen, Ireland

    Gannets Pictures

    Champion divers but clumsy landers, doting parents but hostile neighbors—northern gannets abound in contradictions.

  2. Photo: Silent Ural owl

    Estonia's Ural Owls

    Photographer Sven Začek provides an intimate view of this large raptor.