Minnesota has one species of penguin, the Black-footed Penguin. They’re in our zoos (Minnesota, Como), of course, but this species perhaps could survive in wild Minnesota. 


Except for our winter. That might sound strange, but of the world’s 18 penguin species only seven live along the Antarctic shoreline (none are found in the northern hemisphere). The others live no closer than 750 miles from that icy coast. Some enjoy locations almost tropical.


The Black-footed or African penguin lives in south Africa. It has one of the smallest populations of all penguins, about 25,000 pairs


The Minnesota Zoo on its web page says, “African Penguins, like most other penguin species, are endangered in the wild. Oil spills, historical hunting, and destruction of their habitat have killed 80 percent of the population in the last 50 years. 


“Right now, the greatest source of their troubles comes from a catastrophic drop in the number of sardines as a result of overfishing and changing ocean climate.”


The situation for the Yellow-eyed Penguin is worse, with fewer than 2,000 breeding pairs, in decline. The Galapagos Penguin also is in trouble. In 2009, when the most recent census for this species was taken, only 1,042 individuals were found. 


Penguins, as is the case for so many bird species, often find themselves incompatible with the world as humans have remade it.


Five species are listed as endangered, including those mentioned above. Six are listed as vulnerable, four as near-threatened, and three as species of least concern. The latter includes two of the penguin icons — King, Chin-strap. Both live in the cold places.


Six penguin species number over one million individuals.


This all is contained in a beautiful book — “Penguins: the Ultimate Guide,” by Tui De Roy, Mark Jones, and Julie Cornthwaite, published in the U.S. by Princeton University Press.


The book, large enough and with the requisite excellent photos (more than 400), could be considered a coffee-table book. It also is authoritative. Page through to tour the photos and you will be stopping to read about what you see. These are fascinating birds.


Consider the Little Blue Penguin, resident of Australia and New Zealand. No larger than a crow, it’s nocturnal, nesting in burrows. Hardly your movie penguin. Troubled by non-native predators, Little Blues in New Zealand have human friends who restore native vegetation, kill predators, and even provide nest boxes.


The book presents status, distribution, habitats, and habits of the 18 species, all mapped to location. The penguins nesting on icy Antarctica are well-known for their survival ability. The stories the other species could tell are as interesting, if not as cold.


This is a bird family well-known in one regard — ice and snow — and pretty much unknown in another — the variety of species. This book covers very well the entire family. It would make an excellent holiday gift.


Penguins: The Ultimate Guide, 240 pages, profusely illustrated with photos by the authors, detailed information on each species, index, and a guide to penguin locations, $35.


(Photo, Little Blue Penguins, by the authors, scanned from the book)