The king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is the second largest species
of penguin at about 90 cm (3 ft) tall and weighing 11 to 15 kg (24 to 33 lb),
second only to the emperor penguin. The king penguin is a tall, stately bird
with prominent orange and black head-markings. The eye is fawn to dark
grey-brown, the bill is long, slender and black, and this species is
recognized by an orange to yellow ear patch shaped like an inverted
teardrop, a yellow tinted upper breast and an orange streak along the lower
bill. Females are slightly smaller than the males, and juveniles are
slightly duller in appearance. The king penguin is smaller, much lighter and
more brightly colored than the emperor penguin, Aptenodytes forsteri.
There is a world population of approximately four million king
P\penguins, divided into two subspecies (A. p. patagonicus and A. p. halli). These
populations are thought to be on the increase.
Photo by Joe Tansey
The king penguin has been recorded in Tasmania, Victoria and Western
Australia. This species is distributed through the pelagic (open ocean)
range of the sub-Antarctic and low Antarctic Zones of the South Atlantic
Ocean, South Indian Ocean and the Australasian sector of the Southern Ocean.
Habitat for the king penguin is the marine, pelagic range north of the
Antarctic pack-ice. Not much is known about the movements of the king
penguin; however ,it is thought to be dispersive and partly migratory.
The king penguin feeds underwater by pursuit-diving, on a diet of small
myctophid fish and cephalopods such as squid. This species 'porpoises'
smoothly and gracefully through waves rather than splashing and leaping like
smaller species. King penguins eat small fish, mainly lanternfish, and squid
and rely less than most Southern Ocean predators on krill and other
crustaceans. On foraging trips they repeatedly dive to over 100 meters (350
feet), often over 200 meters (700 feet). This is far deeper than other
penguins, other than their closest relative, the larger emperor penguin.
The king penguin feeds its chicks by eating a fish, digesting it slightly
and regurgitating the food into the chick's mouth. When the young penguins
are large enough, they will often form crèches, a group of many chicks
together. A penguin can leave its chick at a crèche while it fishes as a few
adult penguins stay behind to look after them. Other varieties of penguins
also practice this method of communal care for offspring.
Because of the large size of the chick and the amount of food and time
needed for it to grow to fledging, the king penguin breeds through the
winter. This is markedly different from smaller penguins, which rear their
chicks through a single summer when food is plentiful. King penguins time
their mating so the chicks will develop over the harshest season for
fishing. This way, when the young penguins are finally mature enough to
leave their parents, it will be summer when food is plentiful and conditions
are easier for the young to survive alone.
King penguins are monogamous, and usually breed with the same partner during
the following season. They are known to breed on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic
islands, north of the northern limit of the pack ice, utilizing beaches,
valleys and moraines which are free of snow and ice, and from which the
beach is easily accessible. The egg is incubated on the feet of
the adults, which stay at the site of laying throughout the incubation
period. Both parents incubate and tend to the young continuously until about
38 days after hatching, after which the young form creches for about nine
months. King penguins usually only feed their own chicks.
Adults have a loud, polysyllabic trumpeting call when displaying, and a
soft 'cooing' when locating other king penguins on land or mostly at sea.
The call of king penguin chicks is a modulated whistle.
Adaptations to the Environment
King penguins have adapted well to their extreme living conditions in the
sub Antarctic. To keep warm, the penguins have four layers of feathering.
The outer layer of feathers is oiled and waterproof, not unlike the
feathering of a duck. The inner three layers are down feathers, providing
very effective insulation. A chick is born without the oily outer layer, and
therefore cannot fish until maturity.
Ice and water in Antarctica is primarily salty, making it impossible for
most animals to drink. The king penguin’s stomach, however, has adapted to
drinking salt water. Its powerful stomach can separate the salt completely,
allowing the bird to drink without becoming dehydrated. Like most penguins,
the king penguin is able to drink salt water because of their supraorbital
gland. The gland filters excess salt from their blood stream by way of a
capillary just above the penguin's eyes. The excess salt is then expelled
through the penguin's nose in a salty brine.
Living with Humans
The King Penguin is known to fallen prey to feral dogs on the Falkland
Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean and its breeding habitat is known to
have been destroyed by construction of buildings and roads on the Crozet
Source: Center for Biological Diversity