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13 Facts About Rockhopper Penguin

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The rockhopper penguin is a small, crested penguin species that lives in the subantarctic islands near Antarctica. Known for their spunky “punk” crest of yellow feathers and bright red eyes, rockhoppers are charismatic little birds.

While small, rockhoppers have big personalities and some very interesting traits. Here are 13 fascinating facts about the rockhopper penguin:

Facts About Rockhopper Penguin
  1. There Are Three Subspecies of Rockhopper PenguinThe rockhopper penguin is comprised of three subspecies:
    • The southern rockhopper penguin
    • The northern rockhopper penguin
    • The eastern rockhopper penguin
  2. Rockhoppers Are the Smallest Crested Penguin SpeciesRockhoppers stand at just 16 to 18 inches tall, making them the smallest members of the crested penguin group. Their petite size earns them the title of one of the smallest penguin species.
  3. They Have Specialized Feet for Jumping on Rocky ShoresRockhoppers get their name from their excellent jumping abilities. Unlike other penguins that waddle, rockhoppers can leap from boulder to boulder on the rocky shores where they live.To help them jump and keep balance, rockhoppers have sturdy feet with fleshy pads and sharp claws.
  4. Rockhopper Penguins Are Very VocalFrom their loud, donkey-like breeding calls to their various chirps and warning cries, rockhoppers are one of the noisiest penguins. They use their vocalizations to communicate within their large breeding colonies.
  5. They Have Unique Courtship DisplaysWhen trying to find a mate, male rockhoppers will stand tall, shake their heads, and then bow deeply from the waist. If interested, the female will mimic his display. Pairs also preen each other as a part of their courtship.
  6. Rockhopper Penguins Mate for LifeOnce a pair bonds, rockhopper penguins remain monogamous. Mated pairs return to the same nesting site each year to breed and raise their chicks together.
  7. They Have to Time Their Breeding CarefullyRockhoppers have only a small seasonal window to breed. They have to properly time their egg-laying to match the short southern summer when food is abundant enough to feed their chicks.
  8. Females Usually Lay 2 Eggs Per ClutchThe female rockhopper penguin lays 2 pointy eggs each breeding season. The parents take turns incubating the eggs for around 30 days before they hatch.
  9. Baby Rockhoppers Grow FastRockhopper chicks grow quickly, reaching full adult size just 60 to 70 days after hatching. This rapid development allows them to fledge before winter returns.
  10. Their Population Is DecliningDue to threats from climate change, overfishing, pollution, and more, global rockhopper penguin populations have declined by 30% in the past three generations. All three subspecies have concerning conservation statuses.
  11. Rockhoppers Can Dive DeepDespite being small, rockhoppers are strong swimmers and resourceful hunters. They can dive over 100 meters deep (over 300 feet) and stay underwater for a couple minutes while chasing fish, krill, and other prey.
  12. They Have Special Adaptations to Survive the ColdWith dense waterproof feathers, a thick fat layer, and the ability to reduce blood flow to their extremities, rockhoppers are well-adapted to withstand freezing temperatures and swim in frigid subantarctic waters.
  13. Rockhoppers Are Feisty!Despite their cute and cuddly appearance, rockhoppers have feisty attitudes. They will aggressively fight each other for nest sites and mates by slapping rivals with their flippers and pecking with their beaks.


While small, rockhopper penguins have big personalities and some remarkable adaptations that allow them to survive in the harsh subantarctic climate. Unfortunately, several threats have caused concerning population declines in these spunky, crested penguins. With more awareness and conservation efforts, hopefully rockhopper penguins can recover to once again thrive on their rocky island shores.

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