Puffin vs Penguin: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: April 19, 2023
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Puffins are birds that are known for looking somewhat like miniature penguins. However, if you put these birds next to each other, you would immediately notice that they are very different. So, what are the biggest differences between a puffin vs penguin? We’ll show you the ways these animals are distinct from one another by comparing their physical attributes along with a few other elements.

By the time we’re done here, you’ll know the most significant differences between the tuxedo-clad penguin and the puffin!

Comparing a Puffin and a Penguin

Puffin vs Penguin
Puffins are capable of flight and live in the Nothern Hemisphere while penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere.
Capable of FlightYesNo
SizeWeight: 13oz -17oz
Height: 11in-12.6in
Weight: 2.2lbs-100lbs
Height: 15.7in to 43in
Location-Northern sections of Europe, Asia, and North America
– Most live in Iceland – Some live in the Arctic Circle
Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, South Africa and several islands located between latitudes 45º and 58º South.
BeakShort, narrow, tall beakLong, curved, sharp beak
Number of Species4 distinct species18 distinct species

The Key Differences Between a Puffin vs Penguin

The biggest differences between the puffin and the penguin include flight, size, and beaks. The penguin is famous for being a flightless bird. The fact that it can weigh about 100lbs would make flight impossible for a penguin, especially with its wingspan. Puffins, although they may look like penguins, can actually fly.

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Another major difference between these birds is that penguins are larger than puffins. Penguins are both taller and heavier than puffins. Lastly, we have to discuss the differences in these animals’ beaks. Penguins’ beaks are longer, thinner, and more curved than puffins’ beaks.  

Knowing all these differences, it should be simple to recognize and identify a puffin vs a penguin.  

Puffin vs Penguin: Flight

Flying puffin

Puffins are highly adept flyers and they’re also capable swimmers

©Noel Reynolds / Flickr

Penguins are not able to fly, but puffins can fly. Although penguins are flightless birds, they are very profound swimmers. In fact, they have been studied with regards to their ability to swim using variable wing strokes as opposed to other birds. Penguins are good swimmers, and they can also dive into the water to help them build speed to catch prey.

Puffins are also very good swimmers since they live most of their lives near water. However, puffins are distinct from penguins because they can fly. Not only can they fly well, but they can fly quickly, too. Puffins can reach maximum speeds of about 50mph when they are flying but only for short periods of time.

Interestingly, puffins spent a lot of time at sea looking for food, so they’re capable of surviving in rough, cold sea waters for long stretches of time. They can easily and swiftly take off out of the water into the air, and they can dive from the air into the water, too.

If you see a bird in the air that somewhat resembles a penguin, it’s probably a puffin and it’s certainly not a penguin.

Puffin vs Penguin: Size

Types of Big Birds. Penguins

Some penguins can grow up to 4 feet tall and weigh nearly 100lbs


Another big difference between the puffin and the penguin is their respective sizes. Penguins are bigger, taller, and heavier than puffins.  Puffins are very small birds. They can grow up to 12 inches or so, but they only weigh 17oz, a little over one pound. That’s a rather small bird.

On the other hand, penguins can get rather large. The average penguin will weigh between 2.2lbs and 100lbs, with most of them reaching at least 20lbs. Moreover, they can grow to a height of 43 inches in their largest species, the emperor penguins.

Thus, any penguin will make a puffin seem small by comparison.

Puffin vs Penguin: Location

Penguins are native to the Southern hemisphere, and puffins are located in the Arctic Circle and many countries directly below that area. It’s believed that the largest colony of puffins is found in Iceland, though they live in rather spread-out areas across many countries including Canada.

That means the puffin and the penguin live opposite one another on the north-south spectrum of the world. It’s highly unlikely that a puffin and a penguin would ever occupy the same area outside of captivity.

Puffin vs Penguin: Beak

penguins with beaks open

Penguins have long, curved beaks.


Another way to tell the difference between a penguin and a puffin can be found by looking at their beaks. Penguins’ beaks are long, curved downward, and rather narrow. Puffin beaks are shorter than penguins’ beaks, very narrow, and tall.

Puffin beaks resemble a spade shape when looked at from the side. Both animals use their beaks to kill and consume small fish and other creatures. Puffins can use their deep bills to stuff many fish into their mouths if they come across many potential fish or mollusks.

Puffin vs Penguin: Number of Species

The final difference between a penguin and a puffin is that they each have a different number of species in existence. Only four different species of puffins exist in the world today. Although this bird is not a major concern from a conservation standpoint, they don’t have many species or vast numbers throughout the world.

Penguins have 18 distinct species that exist in the world today. Some of them live in Antarctica and others live in the islands just north of that continent.

Penguins and puffins might look similar in the sense that they share the same black, white, and orange color scheme and live in cold climates. However, they’re very different birds. Aside from the fact that puffins can fly, puffins are much smaller than penguins and their beaks are shaped differently.

Spotting the differences between these birds is pretty simple as they never occupy the same area unless it’s a zoo. However, it’s always helpful to know what makes these birds unique from one another.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ronnie Robertson / Flickr / Original

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About the Author

Kyle Glatz is a writer at A-Z-Animals where his primary focus is on geography and mammals. Kyle has been writing for researching and writing about animals and numerous other topics for 10 years, and he holds a Bachelor's Degree in English and Education from Rowan University. A resident of New Jersey, Kyle enjoys reading, writing, and playing video games.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Do puffins live with penguins?

No, penguins and puffins live in opposite parts of the world. Penguins are found in the southern parts of the world, such as Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands. Puffins live in the far north, around the Arctic Circle and the countries below that. These two species never occupy the same area.

How fast can puffins fly?

Puffins can reach maximum speeds of about 50mph when they fly. However, they can only fly at this speed for a short amount of time.

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