Be Your Own Birder

Discover the King Penguin

The king penguin is certainly royalty among birds, but why? What makes this penguin so unique from other penguins, and why is it so special to see? There is a great deal to discover about this penguin monarch.

King Penguin - Photo by Brian Gratwicke
King Penguin – Photo by Brian Gratwicke

King Penguin Fun Facts

  • The king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is one of only 18 penguin species in the world. Fortunately, these regal penguins are not considered threatened or endangered, though 13 of the 18 penguin species are listed as vulnerable, threatened, or endangered.
  • There are two subspecies of king penguins, located in different geographical areas. They have minor physical differences in size and behavior.
  • King penguins can live an average of 20 years in the wild, and 30 or more years in captivity if they are kept safely and in appropriate conditions to meet their unique needs.
  • These are the second largest penguin species (emperor penguins are slightly larger), and measure roughly 35 inches tall. Females are slightly smaller than males. These birds can weigh as much as 40 pounds depending on whether they have molted recently and where they are in their breeding cycle.
  • These are very affectionate penguins with elaborate courtship rituals that include mutual preening, strutting, bill pointing, flipper raises, head shaking, head swinging, and bowing. Despite these displays, however, king penguins frequently divorce and are not loyal to the same mate after the breeding season.
  • King penguins only raise a single chick each breeding cycle, which lasts 18-20 months, and they do not build nests to do so. Instead, the parent birds incubate the egg in a brood pouch balanced on top of their feet, and the nearly-naked hatchlings stay in that brood pouch for 10 days after hatching to stay warm. When the chicks are 30-40 days old, they will move into a creche flock, where they will remain for several months with their peers.
  • These penguins are deep divers, routinely diving more than 750 feet deep as they forage. A single dive may last 5-7 minutes, and a single king penguin may catch more than 450 prey items (mostly fish and krill but occasionally squid as well) in one day.
  • King penguins can be quite vocal. Whistles, trumpets, groans, and croaks are all part of their repertoire, and auditory recognition is critical among mated pairs and their chicks.
King Penguin Flock - Photo by Liam Quinn
King Penguin Flock – Photo by Liam Quinn

Add the King Penguin to Your Life List

Any penguin can be a challenge to add to your life list, but dedicated birders can travel to see king penguins. Visiting breeding colonies with their tremendous flocks and creches of hatchlings is a great way to discover these birds, and such colonies are easiest to see in the Falkland Islands, Prince Edward Islands, and South Georgia Island. Arranging a dedicated birding, wildlife, or nature photography tour to these exclusive destinations is sure to guarantee extraordinary king penguin sightings.

For birders who may not have the time or budget for exotic travel, king penguins are also familiar and popular guests at many zoos and aquariums with dedicated penguin exhibits. These captive penguins can be found around the world, including in SeaWorld parks as well as zoos and aquariums in Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. Outside the United States, king penguins are honored guests at facilities in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, and the UK, making close observations easily within reach of many birders.

Learn More About the King Penguin

There is always more to learn about all birds, and if you want the royal scoop on king penguins, check out these amazing resources.

King Penguins - Photo by nomis-simon
King Penguins – Photo by nomis-simon

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