And we’ll never be Royals (...Royals...)...

The Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) is a species of crested penguin that can be found in the sub-Antarctic, specifically Macquarie Island, with a few very small breeding populations on Campbell Island and South Island in New Zealand. They are often confused with Macaroni Penguins due to similar coloring, size and range proximity, and actually some scientists classify them as a subspecies of Macaroni Penguin. The two species have even been known to interbreed, but it’s not a frequent occurrence, and there are some differences between them as well.

Though similar, Royal Penguins differ in appearance from Macaroni Penguins in several important ways: instead of having black or dark coloring on their cheeks and chins, their chins are white with some yellow markings. Instead of having two separate crests, one over each eye, Royal Penguins have crests that meet in a V-shape, kind of like a unibrow. They have large red-orange bills. Royal Penguins can grow to be 30 inches (76 cm) tall, and weigh approximately 17 pounds (8 kg) depending on the season. Males are generally slightly larger than females.

The diet of Royal Penguins consists mostly of krill, supplemented by different kinds of fish and cephalopods. They migrate outside of the breeding season, and can be found as far as the North Island of New Zealand, Tasmania and even the Antarctic zone. They tend to feed within the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone, which changes shape depending on the season. During the time when they are usually incubating eggs, the non-incubating partner can travel up to 372 miles (600 km) out to sea and back in just three weeks, foraging for food.

The Royal Penguins have a lengthy breeding season, typically going from September to March. It begins when the male penguins make their way back to the breeding sites, where they will build nests out of grass and small rocks. Royal Penguins form monogamous breeding pairs, and females lay a clutch of two eggs. The first egg laid is usually very small and does not typically hatch. The second one is larger, and will hatch a chick after a 30 to 40-day incubation period. The male will brood the chick for a three week period while the female forages for food. After that, the chick joins a crèche for protection so that both parents can forage and bring back food. Chicks fledge after 70 days.

Royal Penguins are considered to be a vulnerable species by the IUCN. At one point they were heavily hunted, boiled down to produce oil. Their breeding sites have since been fully protected, and their population has made a recovery. But they have so few breeding sites, and the sites are so isolated, that some kind of disaster could potentially wipe out the entire species. Today, the Royal Penguins are 850,000 breeding pairs, which is a big improvement since the mid-19th century but not yet up to their former numbers.

Source for all images used in this post.