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October 10, 2009

Penguin Team Member: Do Penguins have a Memory?


It is hard to quantify (I cannot say 1KB, 25 MB or 100 GB) but the simple answer is Yes. African penguins form very strong bonds with other penguins, with their chicks and their nest location. They recognize their colony location after traveling for several months. While being away from the Academy for five months, I was often asked “Will the penguins remember you?”  Upon return, the familiar behavioral gestures of head bowing, head shaking and following around were immediately observed. They appeared to have recognized either my sound, smell or appearance. These birds can remember and differentiate the humans working with them and have different levels of interaction with different staff members. And they do remember a staff member upon return.-Pamela Schaller

Filed under: CAS Penguin Colony — Penguins @ 12:50 pm


  1. Hi Pamela,

    What are the penguins expressing when they bow their heads and shake their heads?

    Thanks for your reply, and it was a treat seeing the penguin feeding on our vacation,


    Comment by Joyce S. — October 13, 2009 @ 2:41 pm

  2. These behaviors are called display behaviors, also sometimes considered submissive displays. “Head Bow” is identified by the penguin bending its neck and lowering its chin to its body. “Head Shake” includes a bowing of the neck and soemtimes the entire body with a vibratory shaking of the head. These behaviors are observed when a penguin is in close proximity to their mate or their chick. The behaviors are often performed within their terrirtory or nest. They are only displayed when a penguin recognizes another penguin as non-threatening. In the case of the displays being performed towards a human, this could be interpreted that the penguin recognizes the human and considers them non-threatening. Generally, new humans upon introduction to the exhibit are considered threatening and more aggressive penguin postures and displays are observed. -Pamela

    Comment by pschaller — October 14, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

  3. Hi my name is Claudia Dominguez and i’m obsessed with penguins! I plan on going to San Fran to go visit Cali. Academy of Sciences and hopefully see the little guys! I think what you guys do id great! Hope to be in your footsteps soon!

    Comment by Claudia Dominguez — October 23, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  4. So penguins are EXTREMELY SMART!

    Comment by Jocelyn — November 19, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

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