Birds That Look Like Penguins: A Comprehensive Guide

Penguins are one of the most unique seabird species out there, with their adorable walking style and agile swimming abilities.

Penguins lost their ability to fly many years ago. There are different theories as to why they have flippers that can’t fly.

According to a recent study, penguins simply got so used to swimming that their flippers couldn’t hold them up high anymore. That said, if you saw a penguin flying, it was almost certainly one of its doppelgangers.

“Doppelgangers? Are you saying there are birds that look like penguins?”

That’s exactly what we’re saying. In this article, we shed light on these birds so you can identify them with ease, so stick around.

Photo by Imogen Warren

Is a Puffin a Type of Penguin?

two puffins

Throughout this article, you’ll notice that several birds are mistaken for penguins. However, the Atlantic puffin is the bird that most closely resembles a penguin and is often mistaken for one.

To cut a long story short, puffins aren’t related in any way to penguins. The Atlantic Puffin is a seabird found in the North Atlantic.

Puffins are members of the Alcidae (auk) family, and as you’ll see in a moment, the majority of the penguin lookalikes are members of the auk family.

Every summer and spring, those common puffins form breeding colonies. They’re well-known for building their nests on rocky cliffs. Female Atlantic puffins, like a female Emperor and King Penguins, only lay a single egg.

If you’re not familiar with seabirds, you might mistake an Atlantic Puffin for a tiny penguin due to their similar appearance. This resemblance is mostly due to their plumage.

Both species have white feathers on their bellies and black feathers on their backs, heads, and wings. Moreover, because of the orange in the puffin’s beak and feet, you might confuse it with the Gentoo Penguin.

How Do You Tell a Penguin From an Atlantic Puffin?

Here are the four major differences between an Atlantic Puffin and a penguin:

1.    Origin

Penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, so you won’t see any in the North Atlantic.

2.    Physical Abilities

Puffins, like penguins, have excellent swimming abilities and dive to hunt, but they can also fly. Puffin wings are quite strong, and they can reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.

There are 18 different types of penguins, and none of them can fly.

3.    Physical Appearance

A puffin is much smaller when compared to an average-sized penguin. A puffin stands 10 to 12 inches tall and weighs between one and 1.5 pounds.

On the other hand, penguins range in height from 16 to 45 inches and weigh from 2.5 to 82 pounds. The sizes of penguins vary greatly depending on which species they belong to.

Author Note: The beak is the next distinguishing feature of their appearance. The beak of an Atlantic puffin is way more colorful than that of a penguin. The puffin’s beak has several colors: orange, red, yellow, white, and black.

Color on penguin beaks is uncommon, except for certain species such as the king penguin. A fascinating fact about a puffin’s beak is that it turns dull gray in winter and regains its vibrant colors by spring!

4.    Nesting

Penguins, unlike puffins, prefer to build their nests on the ground rather than on cliffs.

Is a Murre a Type of Penguin?

murre taking off

The second lookalike bird on our list is the Common Guillemot, also known as the common murre. The Common Murre, like puffins, is a member of the Auk family.

The North Atlantic and North Pacific are home to Common Murres. That said, they’re known as the penguins of the north due to their resemblance to penguins.

Thousands of Common Murres gather in dense colonies during the breeding season. Speaking of breeding, murres share a trait with Emperor Penguins in that they don’t build nests.

This species is often mistaken for an Adélie Penguin. This confusion is understandable because they seem to be very similar in appearance. Both the Adélie Penguin and the Common Murre have white plumage on their bellies.

Furthermore, both species have black feathers on their backs, wings, and heads, and have dark beaks. Besides, a Common Murre is roughly the size of a small Adélie Penguin. Murres are 15 to 18 inches tall and weigh between 2 and 2.5 pounds.

How Do You Tell a Penguin From a Murre?

Here are the differences between a Common Murre and a penguin:

1.    Origin

The Common Murre is found only in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas, as we previously mentioned, penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.

2.    Physical Abilities

With their tiny wings, Common Murres have a funny walk like penguins. Yet, don’t be fooled; a murre’s wings can fly.

Nonetheless, murres didn’t have much luck with their wings, as they’re very short compared to their bodies. As a result, Common Murres are much better swimmers than flyers.

Besides, murres can’t use their wings to fly for 45 to 60 a year, which are the days in which they molt their primary feathers.

3.    Physical Appearance

Murres are small in size compared to most penguin species, including Adélies. They’re only comparable in size to a small Adélie, as an adult Adélie can grow to be 28 inches tall.

The beaks of Common Murres are thin, long, and dark. They also lack color. On the other hand, penguin beaks, particularly adélie’s, are thicker and shorter. Adélie Penguins also have dark red areas on their dark beaks.

4.    Nesting

Like most penguin species, the Adélie lays two eggs. They lay spherical eggs that are 2 to 3 inches long and weigh less than a pound.

Author Note: On the other hand, a murre’s egg is pear-shaped and regarded as a piece of art. That is due to its fantastic colors and unique patterns. The color of a murre’s egg will be anywhere between blue and beige.

Each egg has its own markings, so you’ll never find two identical eggs. Furthermore, the egg of a Common Murre is quite large, weighing roughly 11% of the female’s weight!

What Other Birds Are Mistaken for Penguins?

There are three more birds that are mistaken for penguins. We’ll go over them briefly, and of course, we’ll point out the differences between them and penguins.

1.   Little Auk

little auk

Another Auk family member found in the North Atlantic. Little Auks breed in dense colonies, similar to penguins. Further, like some penguin species, they lay only one egg. Additionally, they have penguin-like white and black plumage.

If you look closely, you’ll notice that most members of the Auk family stand upright. This posture is something they share with penguins. So, they can easily be mistaken for penguins due to their similar posture and plumage color distribution.

If the Great Auk still existed, you’d see the real puzzlement. Sadly, great auks became extinct in the mid-nineteenth century.

What Are the Differences?

Aside from living in completely different parts of the world, Little Auks and penguins have major physical differences. They’re called little auks for a reason; they’re very small! A little auk ranges from 7.5 to 9 inches in length.

They’re smaller than the Little Penguin, which is the smallest penguin species. Little Penguins range in size from 13 to 17 inches.

What’s more, the beak of a small auk is curved and much shorter than that of a penguin. Those tiny seabirds can fly as well.

2.   Razorbill

perched razorbill

The Razorbill is another penguin lookalike from the Auk family. This bird is considered to be the closest relative of the Great Auk, the extinct species mentioned above.

Top Tip: After the great auk, the Razorbill has taken over as the largest member of the auk family, where Razorbills can grow to be 16 inches tall.

The similarities between penguins and Razorbills will also revolve around posture and plumage color.

What Are the Differences?

The beak of the Razorbill is the first thing that stands out. Aside from being a razor-sharp beak, it has a very distinct appearance.

The beak of a Razorbill has several vertical grooves that end at the tip. One of these grooves is white and runs vertically through the tip of the curved beak. This unique white line isn’t found in any penguin species.

Moreover, Razorbills are excellent flyers. When they spread their wings, you’ll know for a fact that they’re not penguins. As the Razorbill’s wing is feathery, unlike the smooth, broad penguin flipper.

3.   Blue-Footed Booby

blue footed booby

This flying seabird belongs to the Sulidae family. The Blue-footed Booby lives on tropical eastern Pacific islands. A booby can be the same size as an average-sized penguin and can grow to be 32 inches tall.

Author Note: They also have white feathers on their bellies and dark feathers on their backs. In addition, they have long, pointed beaks. That’s why, from a distance, they can be mistaken for penguins.

What Are the Differences?

A Blue-footed Booby gets its name from its bright blue feet. They also have pale blue beaks. You won’t find such colors in a penguin’s feet or beak. Besides, boobies have brown plumage, whereas penguins have black plumage.

However, If you see a penguin with brown plumage, don’t doubt your vision; they’re real. Baby King Penguins keep their brown feathers for a year. This feathery layer keeps them warm until they develop their thick coats.

Final Thoughts

Birds that look like penguins are just as cool as actual penguins. As you may have noticed, each seabird has a distinguishing feature. This can be their color-changing beaks, unique-looking eggs, bright blue feet, and so on.

The more you learn about each species, the clearer it is that they couldn’t possibly be mistaken for penguins. So, you’ll have a lot to say next time someone shows you a video of a “flying penguin.”


How many species of penguins are there?

There are 18 species of penguin. The smallest is the Little Blue or Fairy Penguin and the largest is the Emperor Penguin.

Are penguins endangered?

10 out of the 18 species are endangered according to Birdlife International. Another 3 species are vulnerable or near threatened.

Are penguins aggressive?

When we see penguins they are quite placid and shy looking. However, when fishing or engaged with a predator, they can be quite aggressive using their beak and flippers to fight.

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