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Flightless Friday - Aptenodytes patagonicus Edition

Hail to the king, baby!

The King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is the second-largest of all penguin species and breeding populations can be found on the sub-Antarctic islands of Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands, Prince Edward Islands, Crozet Island, Mcquarie Island, Kerguelen Islands, the northern bits of Antarctica and the South Georgia archipelago. It’s difficult to truly define their non-breeding range, because vagrant King Penguins have been spotted on the Antarctic Peninsula, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. Unlike their larger cousins, the Emperor Penguins, the King Penguin does not live on pack ice.


King Penguins, in this author’s opinion, are absolutely fucking gorgeous. The adults have brilliant yellow markings on their striking black and white plumage, with shimmering silver-gray patches on their back and shoulders. Their bills are black with a vibrant orange-yellow stripe. Juvenile King Penguins look so radically different from the adults that early naturalists at first classified them as two separate species! They were called “woolly penguins” until further study revealed that they fledged to look like the adults. It takes longer than usual for these chicks to fledge, which contributed to the confusion. The chicks are large (almost as tall as the adults), brown and fluffy, with no yellow on their bills. Adult King Penguins stand 40 inches (100 cm) tall and weigh up to 35 pounds (16 kg) depending on sex and time of year.

The diet of King Penguins relies less on krill than other penguin species within its range, and more on squid, escolar, lanternfish and crustaceans. King Penguins are fantastic divers, regularly foraging at depths of 330 feet (100 meters), and they have been recorded at depths of 980 feet (300 meters)! One observed dive was recorded to last 9 minutes (552 seconds). King Penguins will mostly dive to a specific depth and forage on that level, or make W-shaped dives, going up and down. They are preyed upon orcas, fur seals, Leopard Seals and skua.


King Penguins are among the few species of penguin that do not construct nests to incubate their eggs. The eggs are instead placed on the feet of either parent and covered in an abdominal pouch for warmth. The penguins return to the breeding islands from September to November and form mating pairs after engaging in noisy and demonstrative mating displays. King Penguin breeding pairs do not necessarily successfully produce offspring every year. If a pair has been unsuccessful in the previous season, they are usually the first ones to arrive at the breeding grounds the next season. Newly-hatched chicks are guarded for the first 40 days of their lives, with the parents switching off to allow the other to forage. The chicks then graduate to a crèche, which allows them safety in numbers during their vulnerable chickhood. It takes them almost a year to fledge into their adult plumage.


Currently, King Penguins are considered to be a species of least concern by the IUCN, even though they were heavily hunted during the 19th and 20th centuries, with entire colonies being exterminated. After commercial hunting was banned, however, the King Penguin has made a strong recovery. King Penguins are considered to be a flagship species by conservationists and reputable zoos, which means that their charismatic appearance and use as a focus of larger conservation efforts has made those efforts more successful by capturing the public’s interest and imagination.


Source for all images used in this post.

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