Adelie Penguin Pygoscelis adeliae


Justification of Red List Category
Despite the modelled projections suggesting future decline, there has actually been a recent population increase, particularly in East Antarctica (where most of the world population breeds) and the Ross Sea (Southwell et al. 2015a,b, Lyver et al. 2014) and on the southern Antarctic Peninsula south of 66° S (Sailley et al. 2013). The net change in world population is now positive (Lynch and LaRue 2014) and qualify the species to be downlisted as Least Concern.

Population justification

The total global population was previously estimated at c.2.37 million breeding pairs (range 1.83-2.88 million pairs) equating to 4.74 million mature individuals, based on survey data collated up to the mid-1990s (Woehler 1993, Woehler and Croxall 1997). More recently, Lynch and La Rue (2014) estimated the global population to be 3.79 million pairs (range 3.52-4.10 million pairs), equating to 7.58 million animals, based on satellite imagery obtained between 2006 and 2011. Lynch and LaRue (2014) reported that the global population had increased between the times of the two global estimates, with 27% of the difference accounted for by increasing abundance at known colonies and 32% of the difference accounted for by colonies that had not previously been surveyed. Recent direct surveys in East Antarctica (Southwell et al. 2015a, b) have estimated a greater increase in this region [average rate of increase of 1.9% (1.3%-2.4%) per year over 30 years], indicating that the increase in the global population is probably greater than the 27%.

Recent population increases has shown in those regions where most of the world population breeds, including East Antarctica and Victoria Land in the Ross Sea (Southwell et al. 2015a, b, Lyver et al. 2014); it is now also increasing on the southern Antarctic Peninsula south of 66° S (Sailley et al. 2013). In the northern Peninsula region there is also new evidence that some populations are beginning to stabilize after decades of significant decrease (Fountain et al. in press); population decreases had previously occurred in the northern Peninsula region (Fraser et al. 1992). The net change in world population is now positive (Lynch and LaRue 2014). It should be noted that modelled projections in response to climate change, with associated inherent uncertainty, suggest that populations could decline north of 70ᵒS in the future (Ainley et al. 2010, see also Cimino et al. 2016), and such decline will necessitate a future re-examination of the Adélie penguin’s status.

Distribution and population

Pygoscelis adeliae is found along the entire Antarctic coast and at some of its nearby islands. Individuals are dispersive, moving towards areas of persistent sea ice to moult after breeding (Ainley et al. 2010). Numbers are increasing in Victoria Land in the Ross Sea and in other areas of East Antarctica. It is also increasing in the southern Antarctic Peninsula regions (Lyver et al. 2014, Southwell et al. 2015a, Sailley et al. 2013), but is decreasing or stable in the northern Peninsula region (Lynch et al. 2012, Fountain et al. in press). The net global population has increased over the last 30 years (Ainley et al. 2010, Lynch and LaRue 2014). Analyses based on the modelling of climate effects suggests that the global population could start to decline in a few decades time (Ainley et al. 2010, D. Ainley in litt. 2012). These projected declines may only commence after a warming of 2°C above pre-industrial levels has been reached; the projected overall global trend will potentially be positive before this point (D. Ainley in litt. 2012).There still remains considerable uncertainty in these projections, due to the inherent difficulty of modelling the species complex interactions with both physical and biological processes. 


This species nests on ice-free rocky coasts, often in extensive open areas to accommodate typically large colonies which may be far from the open sea. Females lay two eggs, which are incubated by both sexes in alternating shifts. It mainly feeds on krill, fish, amphipods and cephalopods. It captures such prey by pursuit diving, to about 150 m, though with the majority of foraging down to 50 m (Lyver et al. 2011).


The current global population is exhibiting a net increase, while that portion in the northern Antarctic Peninsula is beginning to stabilize after decades of significant decrease (Fountain et al. in press). Computer modelling work suggests that these trends will continue in the near term but net population change may reverse in the future if climate change continues on its current track. An analysis carried out by Ainley et al. (2010) suggests that all colonies north of 67-68°S could be lost by the time that Earth's average tropospheric temperature reaches 2°C above pre-industrial levels, with negative impacts on all colonies north of 70°S, despite limited growth south of 73°S. In this  study, 2042 is the median year  (range 2025-2052) at which a +2°C warming is  predicted based on the four climate models (those  in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report [AR4] that most closely replicate recent environmental conditions and trends in the Southern  Ocean (Ainley et al. 2010).

Further, annual migration and winter survival may be negatively affected by decreases in sea ice coverage at northern latitudes (Ainley et al. 2010, Ballard et al. 2010, Hinke et al. 2014). However, a simple latitudinal gradient in sea ice loss is unlikely as warming so far has been regional in the Antarctic (Zwally et al. 2002, Turner et al. 2009, Trathan et al. 2011, Fretwell et al. 2012). During the summer, nesting habitat could be affected by an increase in the incidence of severe snowfall (Fraser et al. 2013). 

On the basis of this and more recent (Cimino et al. 2016) modelling work, as well as continued revelations concerning climate change (e.g. Fraser et al. 1992, 2013, Trathan et al. 2015), it will be vital to periodically review population responses to ongoing climate variability and change.

The location of research stations near colonies has led to reductions in suitable ground for breeding, excessive visits to colonies and disturbance caused by aircraft movements (del Hoyo et al. 1992), although the impact of disturbance in relation to environmental conditions appears to vary with location (Bricher et al. 2008).

Human impacts potentially also include disturbance from tourists, scientists, construction of new science facilities and fisheries, particularly fisheries for Antarctic krill. Harvesting of krill could be a threat, if management does not adequately take into account the needs of species that feed upon krill (Agnew 1997). Oil spills may also be important at local scales. Protection of habitat on land and at sea is important, with the designation of appropriate protection for transit, foraging and rafting areas at sea.

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway

This is one of the most studied penguin species (del Hoyo et al. 1992), and is the subject of on-going research throughout its circumpolar range. Some colonies are located within protected areas. Human disturbance and scientific research are strictly regulated.

Conservation Actions Proposed

Continue to monitor population trends. Continue to closely monitor trends in the extent and persistence of sea ice, and associated climatic variables. Carry out further research into the species' ecology to improve understanding of how environmental changes and human activities, such as fishing, will affect the population. Improve predictions of future environmental changes and how these will impact the species' population, and conduct research into the potential effects of fish and krill extraction (D. Ainley in litt. 2012). Continue international work to tackle the drivers of projected climate change.


Text account compilers
Butchart, S., Calvert, R., Ekstrom, J. & Taylor, J.

Ainley, D., Kooyman, G. & Woehler, E.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2018) Species factsheet: Pygoscelis adeliae. Downloaded from on 19/11/2018. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2018) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 19/11/2018.