The King Penguin is the world’s second largest penguin species standing 90cm (35in) tall. They weigh from 11 to 16kg (24-35lb). Females are slightly shorter than males.
King penguins have a black back with a silvery patch around the shoulders. Down the front is a patch of white feathers running down to the black flippers that serve as feet. At the top of the white patch is yellow fading into orange up to the head. The head is coloured black with orange circles on the side. The bill is long and slender with a pinkish-red to orange-yellow stripe running along the lower mandible.
Their plumage consists of 4 layers. The inner three are down which insulates against the cold while the outer is covered with oil which makes them waterproof.
This species is carnivorous. Their diet consists of small fish (with their favorite being the lantern fish), squid and cephalopods. Unlike most species that inhabit the Southern Ocean they eat only small amounts of krill.
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King penguins live in colonies on islands off the coast of Antarctica. On some rare occasions non-breeding individuals have been found living in Chile, the Falkland Islands and Argentina. Some individuals will also occasionally travel up to Brazil or to New Zealand or South Africa.
On these islands the conditions are normally rocky or icy with only small amounts of vegetation. Most of their time is spent in the cold waters surrounding their homes.
The king penguin begins its breeding season sometime from September to November. The first stage is when all the penguins come ashore to moult. Following this they return to the sea for three weeks and come ashore ready to breed in November and December.
Pairs of penguins are monogamous with a vast majority staying together from year to year. Both of these parents are responsible for the care of the egg and chick. Partners are selected based on the plumage of the bird.
Male king penguins will also work to attract a mate using a trumpeting call and stretching their body out. If a female accepts him they will engage in bowing, strutting, shaking, calling and stretching out their body.
Following a successful mating has occurred a single greenish-white egg will be laid by the female. This incubated under a fold of fat between their legs for around 55 days. During this period the egg is swapped between the male and the female every 3-7 days. While one has the chick the other will go and forage. Chicks are born with just a thin covering of down and are grey. To feed the chick the parents will regurgitate partially digested food into their mouth.
This intensive care continues through till May when the chick can care for itself and will be left in a crèche with the other penguins. While they continue to develop they survive on stored fat. The parents will go out hunting returning periodically to care for the chick by providing food.
It takes 14-16 months for the chick to be ready to become independent. It is not until that chick goes out on its own that the parents are ready to breed again.
Sexual maturity is not achieved until the chick is three to five years old. Most penguins will not get their first breeding opportunity till they are six years old though.
When hunting for food a king penguin may reach a depth of up to 343m (1125ft). When diving they may be completely submerged for up to 5 minutes. At night they will not dive as deep normally not venturing past 30m (98ft).
On land king penguins are capable of waddling and also sliding across the ice on their bellies as penguins are often portrayed.
Predators of the king penguins include leopard seals, sub Antarctic and Antarctic fur seals, killer whales and humans. Chicks and eggs may be taken by sheathbills, skuas and petrels.
King Penguins are colony birds with some colonies consisting of up to 39,000 pairs. When it is cold they will huddle up to conserve heat.
They are incredibly vocal birds due to the need to find their chicks and mates during the breeding season.
Over two million king penguins can be found in the wild.
By Mark Dickson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/shooderz/308934489/) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
BirdLife International 2018. Aptenodytes patagonicus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22697748A132599901. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22697748A132599901.en. Downloaded on 21 April 2020.