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18 Penguin Species Series

Come to this spot to read about one penguin species every week!

They’re everyone’s favorite bird. Comical and irresistibly cute, penguins are the beloved clowns of Antarctica. If you’re like me and my wife Susan, you could watch them for hours. We’ve seen every penguin species in the wild. Let me be your virtual guide into the world of penguins. Starting September 1, I’ll tell you about each penguin species. Eighteen species; eighteen weeks. Right up through the holiday season and the end of the year.

We’ll retrace our steps through all the species in the order Susan and I saw them. A fun way to learn about penguins! Each week, you’ll get crucial information that’s short and to-the-point, several photos (all taken by Susan and me), and a story. You’ll get an outstanding cool fact for each species—like which is the only species that has a fully white face? Or, why in the world is one penguin species named after an Italian pasta? Crucial facts will include conservation status, population, range, mating and nesting information, how deep they dive and how fast they swim. What threats do penguins face? And, a favorite story about each species.

In today’s series launch, where better to begin than this: why are penguins called penguins?

Queen Elizabeth’s buccaneer courtier, Sir Francis Drake, not only gave his name to the Drake Passage, but he gave the name “penguin” to the flightless birds he found in Tierra del Fuego. In 1577, Drake’s ship log reports seeing an “infinite number of fowle (sic), which Welsh men named penwin” (sic). In Welsh, Pen gwyn means “white head.”

How would men in Wales have seen or named penguins? Drake is likely a bit confused. He’s thinking of another flightless, black and white seabird—one far from the birds he’s seeing in Tierra del Fuego. Drake’s mind was in Newfoundland. What bird was he thinking of? It’s now called the “great auk.” This poor bird was abundant in the Arctic, tall and upright, flightless. The great auk is famous for being hunted into extinction by early colonists to North America. British sailors called it “penwin.”

When the crew of Drake’s ship, the “Golden Hind,” saw similar birds in the far south—black and white and flightless—they either thought it was the same species or just applied the name to what looked similar to them. It was common for early explorers to perceive the New World and its inhabitants and creatures through the filter of their old world imaginations. For example, the jaguar is called “tigre” throughout Latin America. One amazing misperception? Columbus mistook the homely manatees in the Caribbean for mermaids.

This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”

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