The King Penguin

September, 2021 | Antarctica Wildlife

When we arrive in South Georgia, the mighty King Penguin is a sight to behold. When you see your first one, two, or three penguins- that’s exciting. When you see thousands of them in one spot, that is exhilarating. King Penguins might be one of several penguin species that we encounter, but these birds are unique in their special way. Let’s learn more about the King Penguins that we encounter on our voyages.

King Penguins

  • King Penguins are the 2nd largest species of penguin.
  • They are smaller but look remarkably like Emperor Penguins, the only species of penguin larger than them.
  • These penguins look similar with their almost identical markings – white belly, black back with bright yellow high on their necks and orange cheeks.
  • King Penguin chicks are brown and fuzzy, which made early explorers think that they were actually a different species.
  • When a young King Penguin finally leaves its colony, it will not return until at least 3 years later, once it is able to mate
  • Breeding is preceded by a moult. The penguins lose their old feathers that are replaced by new ones
  • Unlike other species of penguin, the King Penguin does not make a nest. The penguins carry their egg around with them on their feet, covered in a flap of skin called a brood patch
  • King Penguins are monogamous and mate with only one mate per season. The mates work together to hatch their egg and care for their chick.
  • These penguins mate when they return from their hunting grounds to moult their feathers
  • Males use a combination of vocalizations and visual displays when courting a female.
  • The pair take turns keeping their chick warm and fed. While one penguin sits with the chick, the other will go off to hunt. The parents switch off every week or so to accomplish this.
  • King Penguin colonies are inhabited year-round
  • There are two distinct groups within a colony – early breeders and late breeders
    The chicks belonging to the late breeders receive few visits from their parents through winter. These chicks huddle together in a creche, keeping alive by their own fat reserves through severe blizzard conditions
  • If a penguin loses its egg or chick during the winter, those penguins become early-season breeders the next season.
  • King Penguins live in large colonies with up to 39,000 breeding pairs.
  • These penguins are very social birds. They will compete for positions at the centre of the colony.
  • King Penguins mainly eat fish, unlike other penguin species that mostly feed on krill. They are also known to eat squid.
  • These penguins spend a lot of time in the ocean feeding, and they can dive down to great depths in search of food. They can also remain underwater for up to 10 minutes.
  • Predatory seabirds like Skuas will kill chicks and go after eggs, while a full-sized adult sees mainly large predators like Leopard Seals and Orca.
  • King Penguins are found in sub-antarctic islands. Because they live and feed in places with low human and similar species impacts, their populations are very strong and not at risk for extinction.

If you’re interested in having a memorable encounter with these fantastic animals, Reach out to our team to learn more about our voyages any time!