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Penguin Study Answers What We’ve All Been Wondering

Penguin Study Answers What We’ve All Been Wondering

If you could talk to African penguins, you’d know when they’re hungry, lonely, pissed off, and ready to party hardy, according to researches at the University of Turin, Italy, who have decoded the chit-chat among birds in captivity and discovered six distinctive calls.

Young “jackass” penguins, as they are called, whine and beg when they’re hungry. Nesting chicks use “begging peeps” when they want adults to feed them, according to the study. And juveniles out of the nest use a “begging moan” to let grownups know they want food, now.

Adult penguins rely on four distinct calls to make their needs known.

  • Contact Calls – Produced by lonely penguins isolated from the colony or their partner.
  • Agonistic Calls – Uttered during a fight or when a penguin tries to intrude on an occupied nest.
  • Ecstatic Display Song — Released during mating season as penguins seek mates. The song sounds like donkey grunts, the reason the penguins have the “jackass” moniker.
  • Mutual Display Song — A duet sung by nesting partners.

Study researchers made video and audio recordings of a colony of 48 captive African penguins at the ZOOM Torino zoo in Cumiana, Italy. Study results were published recently in the journal PLOS One.

“Penguins have less sophisticated vocal mechanisms compared to song birds,” study leader Dr. Livio Favaro told The Guardian, “but they have very sophisticated mechanisms to encode information in songs.”


Read more: Pets, Behavior & Communication, Environment, Nature & Wildlife, Wildlife, , , ,

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Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Lisa Kaplan Gordon, creator of, is an award-winning journalist, avid gardener and fly-fisher. She lives in Northern Virginia on a half acre that always needs weeding. Please visit her on Twitter (@kaplan_lisa) and Facebook (Lisa Kaplan Gordon)


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10:33AM PDT on Apr 6, 2015

I speak pretty fluent cat and dog, but am always interested to learn about other the communication systems of other species. And how cute are those penguins!

12:23AM PDT on Aug 11, 2014

Thanks for sharing!

5:03AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

Animals are such a beautiful creatures and maybe they are not much different from humans. They too have different kind of emotions. It was a joy to read your article.Thanks for sharing!:)

12:28AM PDT on Aug 9, 2014

Very interesting I'm sure all animals have their very own language - pity we are the ones who cannot understand them - however I am sure they understand most of what we say to them. My doggies and cat do anyway!

9:25PM PDT on Aug 8, 2014


6:45PM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

I don't see why this article should surprise anyone. ALL animals communicate with each other and often understand us. We're the morons for not understanding THEIR language!

11:39AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

Interesting article.

11:27AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

Thank you for sharing.

9:09AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

very interesting :)

2:35AM PDT on Aug 8, 2014

Penguins are so adorable. Interesting article. Thank You.

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