How Do Penguins Feed Their Chicks?

By Ezmeralda Lee

It is possible to learn many different things about winter survival from a penguin colony. One of the most interesting things to watch about penguins is how they raise their young. It has amazed many documentarists to watch how they hatch the eggs and then care for their young. One question that many people have about penguins is "How do they feed their chicks?" The answer is probably a lot different than you might think. The way that penguins feed their chicks is similar to a few different kinds of birds, such as flamingos and pigeons. However, penguins actually have multiple ways of taking care of their young.

It is possible to learn many different things about winter survival from a penguin colony. One of the most interesting things to watch about penguins is how they raise their young. It has amazed many documentarists to watch how they hatch the eggs and then care for their young. One question that many people have about penguins is "How do they feed their chicks?" The answer is probably a lot different than you might think. The way that penguins feed their chicks is similar to a few different kinds of birds, such as flamingos and pigeons. However, penguins actually have multiple ways of taking care of their young.

Hunting for Food

Penguins all hunt for food in the same way. They can either catch it out of the water, or scrape the smaller food, like krill, off of the underside of the ice. Penguins usually eat krill, squid and fish. There are three main ways that penguins can feed their young.

Swallowing Food

The adult penguin swallows the food and saves it for later changing it into a form that the chicks can eat. There are three different ways to do this. The first way is regular regurgitation; the second way is similar to refrigerating the food whole; the third way is to create a kind of milk for the chicks from the digested food.

Regurgitating the Food

The adult penguin will partially digest the fish or other food inside their stomachs. This usually takes several hours. When the food has been digested enough, the penguin coughs the food back up and feeds it to the chick by pouring the mixture into the chick's beak.

"Refrigerating" the Food

Another way that penguins feed their chicks is through refrigeration. The adult penguin swallows the fish or other food whole, and secretes it inside their stomach where it can be held for several days before the penguin has to feed it to the chick. The food is actually kept at the body temperature of the penguin, and the penguin has special enzymes that keep the food from going bad.

Penguin "Milk"

Some breeds of penguins can completely digest their fish and krill before they feed it to their chicks. When this happens, a form of oil is made from all of the nutrients from the food. This process takes several days to occur. The penguin then gives that fish "milk" to its young.

Feeding the Chick

The basic way of feeding the chick is always the same. The parent catches the fish, krill or squid, digests it or holds it in for a while, then when it is ready, it regurgitates the food into its beak, and then uses its beak as a kind of spoon to place the food into the baby penguin's mouth.