Happy Penguin Awareness Day! 5 Ways You Can Help

All photos: Rebecca R Jackrel.

Penguins are some of the most lovable birds on the planet. They waddle their way right into our hearts with their tuxedo coloring and bowling-pin builds. But how much do we really know about these birds? Of the 18 species of penguins in the world, 13 are considered at risk. Some species, such as the Galapagos penguin and yellow-eyed penguin, have only a few thousand individuals left. So in honor of Penguin Awareness Day (Jan. 20), here are five ways you can help out these amazing birds — and we're also sharing some cool facts about penguins you probably didn't know!

1. Donate to a reputable conservation group that works with penguins:

penguins swim out of surf

2. Keep the oceans clean: Use less disposable plastic, recycle whenever possible, and clean up beaches and rivers when you visit. But caring for our oceans is about more than just keeping trash out — it also means watching the indirect ways we put pollution in the water. Buy organic foods to help lower the amount of fertilizer and pesticides that flow into the ocean. Make sure your car isn't leaking oil. Never dump chemicals down storm drains.

chinstrap penguins on rocks

3. Reduce your carbon footprint to help slow climate change: Ocean acidification and warming are significant factors that affect the ocean's systems and food chain. And the source of these problems come down to our carbon footprint. There are many ways you can reduce your carbon footprint, from small changes in daily life to big decisions about transportation and consumerism.

penguins leap from water

4. Only eat fish that has been sustainably caught: Krill is a major food source for several penguin species, but our overfishing of krill could lead to serious problems (not only for penguins but for many other ocean species). The same goes for sardines, anchovies and other small fish that penguins need to survive. We catch these species not only for our own consumption, but to use as feed for fish farms where other types of fish like salmon are raised for market. Basically, we're overfishing wild species to raise another species of fish. You can avoid being part of the decline of penguin food sources by making sure any fish you consume is sustainably raised and caught. A great guide to use is the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

adele penguin profile

5. Learn more about penguins: It's hard to help a species that you don't know much about. And when it comes to penguins, the more you know, the more you'll fall in love! Penguins are fascinating birds, and each species has its own unique attributes and behaviors. Researchers are constantly learning about them. For instance, researchers only recently discovered how emperor penguins use air trapped in their feathers as a sort of jet-propulsion system underwater when they need to make a speedy getaway from a predator or leap from the water onto land. Amazing! Learning more about penguin species will keep you interested in them, and in their future on this planet.

Did you know? 14 surprising penguin facts

penguins with yellow feathers

1. All 18 species of penguins are legally protected from hunting and egg collecting. However, at least 13 species are still considered at risk.

penguin couple

2. The Magellanic penguin is named after Ferdinand Magellan, who first spotted them in 1520 and who also gave his name to the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South Africa, where the penguins dwell.

3. Penguins are social animals, and they recognize each other as individuals. Even in large groups, penguins can distinguish one another by their unique calls.

penguin on nest

4. All species of penguin lay two eggs, except for king and emperor penguins, which lay one egg.

chinstrap penguin with rock

5. Chinstrap penguins get their name from the thin black band under their head, that looks like the strap of a helmet.

adele penguin couple

6. Penguins live almost exclusively in the Southern Hemisphere, on Antarctica, New Zealand, and the southern tips of South America and Africa. The slight exception is the Galápagos penguin; one of the islands they dwell on just crosses the equator, so they occasionally visit the Northern Hemisphere.

penguin eaps from water

7. The diets of penguins consist mainly of krill, fish and squid. As a rule of thumb, penguins closer to the equator eat more fish while penguins closer to Antarctica eat more krill and squid.

penguins on ground

8. Penguins’ eyes work better underwater than they do while on land, giving them an edge for spotting prey even in murky water.

penguins leaping out of waves

9. The black-and-white plumage of penguins makes them stand out on land but gives them camouflage in the water. The black makes it hard for predators to see them from above, while the white makes it hard to spot them from below.

penguin colony

10. Penguins can usually be found on islands where there is minimal threat from native land predators. However, for some species, non-native predators like cats and ferrets pose significant threats.

penguin holding court

11. To beat the cold, King penguins have four layers of feathers. They're able to stay nice and toasty in the frigid subAntarctic areas where they live.

young penguin chick

12. Penguins stay in the water for up to three-quarters of their lives. Some species only leave the water for molting and breeding.

little blue penguin couple

13. Little blue penguins are the smallest penguins in the world, standing at just around 12 inches tall. They have long-term mates but "divorce" sometimes happens.

penguin calling out

14. Penguins have very good hearing, which is important not only for hunting and survival in the water but also for finding their mate and chicks in the middle of a huge colony.

penguins walking on trail