The emperor penguin is the most familiar of the 17 penguin species in the world, and it is also the largest, weighing in at up to 90 pounds. That extreme weight is essential since the birds are not able to feed for up to two months while incubating their single egg; instead, they live off their fat reserves.
- Bill: Dark, tapered, pale grin patch
- Size: 40 inches long with 30-35-inch wingspan, weighs 65-90 pounds
- Colors: Black, silver, white, yellow, orange
- Markings: Genders are similar with black or silver head, back and wings that may be darker at the shoulder and along the edge of the dark plumage. The chest and abdomen are white with yellow beneath the chin. There is a blended yellow and white ear patch darker at the tip, and the birds have dark feet. Males are heavier than females.
Fish, krill, squid
Habitat and Migration:
Emperor penguins can be found along the coast of Antarctica on ice shelves and in the sea, where they spend a good deal of time hunting. These birds do have a short term migration between nesting colonies and the sea for feeding, but they stay year round in Antarctica, enduring temperatures as cold as -80 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 degrees Celsius). Nesting colonies are typically found near iceberg and rock outcroppings that provide some shelter from Antarctic winds.
Sound is crucial for emperor penguins to identify one another, both as chicks and adults, and they have the widest call variations of any penguin species. Typical calls include raspy “craaaaal” sounds, whistles and ululations.
Emperor penguins are very social birds and can form colonies that routinely include thousands of birds. During the harsh winters, the birds will huddle together for warmth, often shifting positions so different birds are on the colder edge of the huddle at different times. While hunting, these agile, powerful swimmers can dive up to 1,600 feet below the surface and they can stay submerged for up to 20 minutes.
These are monogamous birds that produce a single egg annually. The males will incubate the egg by holding it on their feet and covering it with a brood pouch for 62-67 days, going without food themselves while the females migrate to the sea to hunt. After the chicks hatch and the females return, both parents work to rear the hatchling. This species is one of only two penguin species that incubate eggs during Antarctic winters, the other being the Adelie penguin.
Attracting Emperor Penguins:
These are obviously not backyard birds, but they are common in zoos and aquariums around the world. The species is very sensitive to climate changes that affect their Antarctic habitat, and they also suffer from predation by petrels and skuas that will eat eggs and chicks, as well as leopard seals and orcas that kill adult penguins.