Penguins are known for looking sharp.

They have long been adored for their waddling gate and striking black and white attire that gives them the appearance of a flock of dinner jackets.

But scientists have recently discovered the birds are not just sartorially smart, but pretty clever too.

In an interview with National Geographic, David Powell, Director of Research at St. Louis Zoo said the animals have developed traits to suggest they are far from 'bird brained.'

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Social animals: Penguins have adapted to live in large social groups. Photo / Getty Images
Social animals: Penguins have adapted to live in large social groups. Photo / Getty Images

Powell has helped devise a series to tests to find out if penguins are as smart as they look.

But he doesn't mean testing the birds' mental arithmetic or ability to memorise trivia.

The researchers assess the animals in terms of intelligence that is "actually meaningful to the animals" explains Powell.

Hunting fish and navigation in polar climates have honed their intellect.

Intelligence in other birds such as crows or talking parrots has been subject to years of studies.

However, penguins so far have been overlooked.

Hunting fish and navigation in polar climates has honed penguin intellect. Photo / Getty Images
Hunting fish and navigation in polar climates has honed penguin intellect. Photo / Getty Images

Penguins have to hunt in packs and use team tactics to successfully catch fish. The Royal Society Open Science found the preferred method of catching fish - by herding them on the water's surface - to be three times more efficient than lone hunting.

As flock animals, at some point penguins have evolved social skills to come up with group solutions to complex problems.

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This hunting technique requires "rapid information processing," explains Powell.

Penguins can be observed signaling to the flock and "making a prediction where the fish are going to go and how to then get them."

Another extraordinary skill that points to developed intelligence is the penguins' sense of direction.

Survival smarts: Young gentoo penguins are kept warm by a parent. Photo / Getty Images
Survival smarts: Young gentoo penguins are kept warm by a parent. Photo / Getty Images

Combining a good memory and navigation though barren Antarctic tundra, species including Adelie and Chinstrap penguins are able to find the same nesting spot year after year.

This is even more impressive considering the colonies can number in tens of thousands.

One study into King Penguins shows they have developed to live in these densely packed flocks.

On the Antarctic island of South Georgia, penguin colonies can number in tens of thousands. Photo / Getty Images
On the Antarctic island of South Georgia, penguin colonies can number in tens of thousands. Photo / Getty Images

Monogamous pairs of King Penguins take turns to incubate and hunt, but in spite of the din (and near identical appearance) they can find their way to their mate's position.

A study published by the BRILL journal found this was due to the penguins' ability to recognise and pinpoint their partner's voice in a crowd of hundreds.

Just the sort of polished social skills you'd expect, from a bird in a tuxedo.