Can Penguins Move Their Eyes? (Explained)

by Chukay Alex
Updated on

Penguins’ eyes have come into researchers’ interest in recent times and this is due to their amazing ability to swim and dive underwater for long periods of time without having major eye problems. 

Penguins can move their eyes in their sockets but like most birds have limited eye movement and as such they compensate for it with movements of their heads. 

Today we will discuss what is special about the eyes of these amazing birds, whether they cry and blink, what colors they see and how they communicate. 

Can Penguins Move Their Eyes?

Can Penguins Move Their Eyes

Penguins can move their eyes to a certain degree like most birds. Birds in general do not move their eyes as much as human beings can. 

Humans have muscles in the eyes which facilitates eye movement and gives us the ability to move our eyes to some extent without having to move our heads.

Most birds on the other hand have their pupils attached to sockets which limit the extent to which birds can move their eyes.

Most often they compensate with movements of the head and some birds like owls cannot move their eyes around at all. 

Penguins are known to have circular pupils which they can constrict, the Emperor and King penguins though have pupils that when constricted strongly become ‘diamond shaped’.

The eyes of the penguins can adjust a lot when they leave the brightness of the daylight to move into the ocean.

Penguins can move their eyes for much the same reasons human do and they can also blink,

They also have a third eyelid called the nictitating membrane which they blink frequently to clear their eyes of dirt and debris. 

Related: Here is an article I wrote on can penguins eat vegetables

What Is Special About Penguins’ Eyes?

Penguins have quite the amazing sight and are reputed to have one of the best eyes for underwater diving. Penguins live most of their lives out on the ocean, hunting fish and diving.

Oftentimes, the penguins have to descend to depths where it is dark and it is similar to night time over land.

As a result of this, the penguins have adapted eyes which enable them to see very clearly in the water.

Humans have round corneas which.

For penguins however, the cornea is flattened and they are able to not only focus light on the lenses when it is needed, they can change the shape of the lens to see clearly both on land and in water.

As such, they do not experience the stigning humans feel in their eyes when they get into water. 

Apart from this sharpness and clarity, penguins are also believed to see in ultravision and this ultimately guides what they eat.

This UV vision helps to effectively secure the most tasty meals among the fishes in the sea.

Can Penguins Blink?

Penguins are also known to blink as much as humans can. Penguins blink normally the way humans do and they also have another eyelid called the nictitating membrane. 

The nictitating membrane is a translucent eyelid found in some animals which they can draw across the eye for protection and moisture while remaining visible.

This feature has been observed in birds, fishes, reptiles and even in some mammals.

Humans do not possess this third eyelid and that is why dirt sometimes gets stuck in our eyes and we have to close it often to protect it if we are in a sandstorm for example.

The major function of the nictitating membrane for the penguin is to protect it from debris while they are out swimming in the ocean.

It doesn’t disturb them as it comes briefly over the eyes, from time to time, to clean out any dirt.

Do Penguins Cry?

Penguins have not been observed to cry the way humans do. Researchers know the birds experience different emotions but there is no record of a penguin ever crying.

What does look akin to crying but not crying that the penguins do is to release the excess saltwater they take in from swimming in the ocean for long periods of time.

Penguins do not have access to fresh water all year long as they live in the ocean.

Most of the time they have to make do with saltwater most of the year, and as we all know excess saltwater is toxic for the body, they have to get rid of this one way or another. 

Penguins are usually seen shaking their head often and this is a major way of removing the saltwater from their bodies.

They possess a gland in their beak which helps them collect any excess saltwater they may have swallowed from the ocean and the fish they eat. 

Once they shake their heads, they sneeze and then spit out the salt water, this is to avoid dehydration from the saltwater.

Also check out this article I wrote on can penguins jump

What Colors Do Penguins See?

Penguins can see the colors humans can. They see colors in the red, green and blue spectrum and research has strongly suggested that penguins also possess ultraviolet vision.

The UV vision helps them to see hues of colors that humans cannot see.

Ultraviolet vision is an ability common to most birds as they have special photoreceptors in their eyes sensitive to ultraviolet light.

Penguins make use of ultraviolet vision when they are hunting for fish in the ocean.

As these colors reflect from different parts of the ocean, they are able to signal to the penguin which meals are the choicest and juiciest.

Evidence of ultraviolet vision has been discovered in King and Emperor penguin species mate selection.

Naturally, penguins go through elaborate displays before picking a partner but in these two species they also use colors on their beaks.

The penguins who spot colors on their beaks which look like an orange hue to humans, are actually different in ultraviolet rays and colors on the beak help the penguins decide who they will pick as partners. 

Research reveals that the penguin mates who re-pair year after year have similar beak colors. 

Can Penguins Communicate With Their Eyes

There is no evidence to show that penguins communicate with their eyes amongst themselves.

Penguins are known for their loud and noisy vocalizations which they use in signaling themselves. 

Even though they also have elaborate visual displays they do not usually communicate with their eyes.

A major way penguins communicate is by sound, they have a honking or bray sound which is unique to each penguin.

Every penguin has a unique sound which helps it’s close relations recognize it amongst thousands of penguins in a colony.

Long gone mates use these sounds to recognize each other, parents can identify their chicks through their sounds, colony members can also recognize each other with their sounds and can signal to each other when there is a predator around.

Because penguins are not much different in look, they often have to rely on these sounds to distinguish one penguin from the other successfully. 

Can Penguins Turn Their Eyes 360 Degrees

Most birds have limited eye movement ability and this is mainly due to the fact that their pupils are attached to sockets within their eyes.

They compensate for this with a lot of head movements to be able to afford a wider vision.

Penguins can turn their eyes fractionally and they can also dilate their pupils especially when they have to go into the ocean.

The dilation helps the lens to adjust to the change in environment and gives them the clear sight they have underwater.

Penguins have amazing underwater vision and they can see pretty well on land too.


Penguins are able to move their eyes one way or another and can dilate their helps to help them adjust to change in the environment once they enter the water.

Because penguins spend a lot of time in the ocean, they possess flattened corneas which help to focus light on their lens and give them a sharp vision.

Penguins can blink their eyes just like humans and even have a third eyelid known as the nictitating membrane which they use to protect their eyes from debris.

Penguins do not cry and they see colors on the red, blue and green spectrum but they also possess ultraviolet vision which helps them see the world differently from humans.

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About the author

Chukay Alex

Chukay is a season writer and farmer who enjoys farming and growing plants in his backyard farm. When he is not farming you can find him at the nearest lawn tennis court, hitting a mean backhand down the line.


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