King penguins are the second largest penguin, second to the emperor penguin, to which they are closely related. They live on the many sub-antarctic islands (such as Crozet, Prince Edward, Kerguelen, South Georgia, Heard, and Macquarie Islands) that lie below the antarctic convergence and form colonies which can be extremely large with tens of thousands of birds. The colonies occupy low areas on the coast of the islands, usually rocky beaches, moraines, and low valleys.
Large upright bird with silver gray back and white front. The most distinctive features are bright orange ear patches, and a similar coloured flash on their chests. They differ from the similar looking emperor penguin in that the ear patch is closed and not open, and the colouration is a deeper orange, rather than the lighter yellow of the emperor penguin.
Size: about 90cm, 30 inches tall
Weight: 10 to 15kg, 20 to 30 pounds
Range and Population
King penguins breed on sub-antarctic islands such as Crozet, Prince Edward, Kerguelen, South Georgia, Heard, and Macquarie Islands. They feed at sea. In 1993 the population was estimated at 1.5 million breeding pairs.
King penguins have a very long breeding season with eggs being laid from November until April. Once laid the eggs take about 54 days to hatch, with the eggs being incubated on the feet of the adults and not in nests (the same as emperor penguins). The chicks are hatched with dark brown down, which they retain while being reared during the winter. During the winter they form creches while the parents are at sea feeding and gathering food for the chicks. The following summer they fledge loosing the brown down to be replaced by adult plumage. Because of the long breeding cycle an adult pair can only raise a single chick every other year.
Food and Predators
King penguins feed on small fish, and squid. They swim in the usual penguin fashion using their flippers to propel themselves through the water, and are able to stay submerged for up to 15 minutes, and reach depths of hundreds of feet.
At sea the main predators of king penguins are killer whales and leopard seals. During breeding the colonies are raided by skuas and giant petrels which take eggs and chicks.
Where to See King Penguins
It is possible to see king penguins in the wild. Numerous ship based tour companies do trips to sub-antarctic islands. Visit the Tourism Page for details.
Seeing king penguins in the wild is not a cheap or practical option for most people. Luckily there are a few zoos and aquariums with king penguins which makes them more accessible.