Flightless birds are birds that lack the ability to fly. These species rely on running and/or swimming instead of flying, but evolved from volant ancestors. There are about forty species in existence today, the best known being the ostrich, emu, cassowary, rhea, kiwi, and penguin. Some birds evolved flightlessness in response to the release from predation, for example on oceanic islands, although this is likely not the case for the ratites (the ostrich, emu and cassowary), as evolutionary origins suggest a continental biogeographical providence.
Two key differences between flying and flightless birds are the smaller wing bones of flightless birds and the absent (or greatly reduced) keel on their breastbone. The keel anchors muscles needed for wing movement. Flightless birds also have more feathers than flying birds.
New Zealand has more species of flightless birds (including the kiwis, several species of penguins, and the takahe) than any other country. One reason is that until the arrival of humans roughly a thousand years ago, there were no large land predators in New Zealand; the main predators of flightless birds were larger birds.
Penguins (order Sphenisciformes, family Spheniscidae) are a group of aquatic, flightless birds living almost exclusively in the southern hemisphere, especially in Antarctica. Highly adapted for life in the water, penguins have countershaded dark and white plumage, and their wings have evolved into flippers. Most penguins feed on krill, fish, squid and other forms of sealife caught while swimming underwater. They spend about half of their lives on land and half in the oceans.
Although all penguin species are native to the southern hemisphere, they are not found only in cold climates, such as Antarctica. In fact, only a few species of penguin live so far south. Several species are found in the temperate zone, and one species, the Galápagos Penguin, lives near the equator.
The largest living species is the Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri): on average adults are about 1.1 m (3 ft 7 in) tall and weigh 35 kg (75 lb) or more. The smallest penguin species is the Little Blue Penguin (Eudyptula minor), also known as the Fairy Penguin, which stands around 40 cm tall (16 in) and weighs 1 kg (2.2 lb). Among extant penguins, larger penguins inhabit colder regions, while smaller penguins are generally found in temperate or even tropical climates (see also Bergmann's Rule). Some prehistoric species attained enormous sizes, becoming as tall or as heavy as an adult human. These were not restricted to Antarctic regions; on the contrary, subantarctic regions harboured high diversity, and at least one giant penguin occurred in a region not quite 2,000 km south of the equator 35 mya, in a climate decidedly warmer than today.