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The penguin quest: A search for all 18 species

We’re regularly asked two questions: what is our favorite penguin, and what did we learn from our quest?

Our favorite species is no doubt the King Penguin. Its size and markings are breathtaking, with glorious gold accents on head and chest. One birder from northern England called it “the most bonny bird of all.” Plus, South Georgia and Macquarie islands, two strongholds, are among the wildest, most beautiful places on earth.

But we have to say a word for the more common Gentoo Penguin. We especially love its playfulness in the water.

Our favorite place to watch Gentoos is in the Falkland Islands, especially “The Neck” on Saunders Island and on Sea Lion Island. We’ve spent unforgettable afternoons on the beach, watching them catch waves and surf to shore, then swim out to do it again. One pair of Gentoos tumbled in turquoise waves. Three others leapt in synchronized displays.

Gentoo Penguins
Gentoo Penguins gather at sunset on Saunders Island, the fourth largest of the Falkland Islands. Photo by Charles Bergman

We learned two big lessons from our quest. The first was utterly unexpected: how much we enjoyed the people we met. Birders with global lists of 8,000 species were generous with their knowledge.

We even met a couple who share our passion for penguins and are also on a quest for all 18. Jude and Andrew have become dear friends.

From penguins, we learned it is impossible to be unhappy in their presence. Playing in the waves, caring for their chicks, or braying their “ecstasy call” — they’re a joy to be around. Susan and I have a term for this feeling. We call it the “penguin glow.” Once you’ve felt it, you can never let it go.

A version of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2018 issue of BirdWatching magazine. 

See a photo gallery of all 18 species of penguin 

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Charles Bergman

Charles Bergman

Charles Bergman is a professor of English at Pacific Lutheran University, an author, and an award-winning photographer. For BirdWatching, he has written articles about penguins, Vaux’s Swift, Red Crossbill, Spotted and Barred Owls, and Tufted Puffin, among other topics. His most recent book is A Penguin Told Me a Secret.

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