There is no shortage of birds in the world. While numerous species are related and may look similar, none are as easily recognizable as the classic and iconic penguin.
Yet, sometimes, it can be hard to tell the difference between a penguin and a bird that looks like a penguin but isn’t. Read on to learn about the top seven birds that look like penguins but aren’t.
1. Spectacled Guillemot
- Scientific Name: Cepphus carbo
- Length: 15in (38.1cm)
- Weight: 12–17.7oz (340–500g)
- Wingspan: 27in (68.58cm)
The spectacled guillemot resides in Japan and the area near the Kuril Islands, where they breed and allow their young to remain in the nest for six weeks until the hatchlings can fly.
Also called the sooty guillemot, these birds enjoy the sea, like penguins, but have different habits and characteristics.
Unlike penguins, spectacled guillemots are birds of flight. However, they have similar coloring, with black along their bodies and some red under their wings or on their sides. This species typically has black bills and a white circle of feathers around their eyes, giving them a distinct color pattern from penguins.
2. Atlantic Puffin
- Scientific Name: Fratercula arctica
- Length: 10in (25.4cm)
- Weight: 11.3–17oz (320–480g)
- Wingspan: 24in (60.96cm)
Atlantic puffins may look the most similar to penguins than any other bird in existence. This variety of puffin has white on their faces and chests while the rest of their body is black. Indeed, their tuxedo-like pattern is most reminiscent of the typical appearance of a penguin.
A significant difference between Atlantic puffins and penguins is that puffins have an orange bill and eyes with an orange-red ring around their black pupils. Unlike penguins, Atlantic puffins are capable of flight and can fly as fast as 55 miles per hour.
However, like penguins, Atlantic puffins will only lay one egg at a time, and the parents will alternate the incubating process to care for their unborn offspring.
3. Crested Auklet
- Scientific Name: Aethia cristatella
- Length: 9in (22.8cm)
- Weight: 6.9–11.6oz (195–330g)
- Wingspan: 20in (50.8cm
Crested auklets are seabirds like penguins and have a similar build. What makes this species unique is its plumage of white feathers that grow between their eyes during the breeding season. Sometimes, these feathers are black instead.
The bill of a crested auklet is much shorter than that of a penguin. Crested auklets populate islands in Alaska, where they spend their whole lives in groups.
4. Japanese Murrelet
- Scientific Name: Synthliboramphus wumizusume
- Length: 10in (25.4cm)
- Weight: 5.8–6.5oz (164–183g)
- Wingspan: 17in (43.18cm)
The white and black color pattern of the Japanese murrelet is similar to a penguin, but these two species otherwise differ wildly. Murrelets are members of the seabird Auk family and can be found on the rocky shorelines of Japan. The species can travel as far as South Korea to breed, but this can be rare.
Japanese murrelets are at risk of extinction, with as little as 2,500 members left. Their distinctive crested white feathers atop their heads make murrelets easy to spot. They usually have white going down the front of their neck and belly, while the rest of their bodies and wings are black.
- Scientific Name: Alle alle
- Length: 9in (22.86cm)
- Weight: 4.7-7.2oz (134-204g)
- Wingspan: 19in (48.26cm)
Dovekies, also known as little auks, are black and white birds with an extensive distribution, with populations in North America, the Arctic, and Europe. They are a little smaller than penguins. Dovekies have webbed feet, which help them dive and swim to catch their meals, consisting of fish and sea creatures.
The species has a wide range of breeding grounds and maintains colonies on coastal cliffsides. Dovekies are quite vocal in their colonies but are silent when out at sea.
6. Thick-billed Murre
- Scientific Name: Uria lomvia
- Length: 18in (45.72cm)
- Weight: 26.0–52.2oz (736–1,481g)
- Wingspan: 30in (76.2cm)
Thick-billed murres are carnivorous seabirds that can fly faster than most birds its size. The species has trouble getting in the air at first but can reach 75 miles per hour when they’re in the sky.
As with penguins, the murre dives into the water for meals and can get several hundred feet into the water when hunting prey. These birds prefer colder environments, like Nova Scotia, Greenland, and Alaska.
- Scientific Name: Sula
- Length: 25in (63.5cm)
- Weight: 52.9-77.6oz (1500-2200g)
- Wingspan: 64in (162.56cm)
Two varieties of boobies (the brown booby and the blue-footed booby) are noted for their penguin-like coloring. These two species generally prefer the tropics to the cold weather. The blue-footed booby inhabits South America, while the brown booby can be found as far afield as the Pacific, Indian, and Atlantic oceans.
Like penguins, boobies will have large colonies that share responsibilities, but these animals can be highly territorial and may not appreciate other birds stepping over their boundaries.
Boobies are usually black or white on their chest, with black wings, giving them a similar look to penguins. However, boobies have long necks and slender bills that distinguish them from their flightless counterparts.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve looked at several penguin-like birds, but you might still have a few questions about puffins, razorbills, and tropical birds. These answers can help clear up any confusion.
Is a puffin a bird or a penguin?
Puffins are birds, just like penguins are birds. However, puffins are not a type of penguin. These two birds are different types of birds and have separate habits, needs, and personalities.
What bird in Florida looks like a penguin?
There are a handful of Florida birds that look similar to penguins, but the most notable is the puffin. These birds often migrate south along the coast and can be seen in Florida during winter.
Is a razorbill a penguin?
Razorbills are members of the Auk family, but they are not penguins. Still, they are often confused with penguins because of their outward appearance. Razorbills are distant relatives of the Great Auk, a bird that went extinct in 1844 when humankind hunted their species as a food and bait source.
No other bird is as easily recognizable as the penguin, but there are many birds that look like penguins. Penguins come in various shapes, sizes, and color patterns, making them hard to distinguish from other birds.
Species like boobies, dovekies, and puffins look just like penguins but aren’t in the same family. However, they may be distant cousins and share a common ancestor in their family tree. Keep a lookout on your next nature walk to see if you can spot one of these penguin look-alikes yourself!