The king penguin is one of the largest of the 17 penguin species, second only to the emperor penguin, and with its bold gray, silver, black, white and orange plumage, it is also one of the most colorful. This easily recognizable penguin is familiar in zoos and aquariums worldwide, and a favorite species for many birders and non-birders alike.
- Bill: Long, thin, dark with orange or yellow grin patch
- Size: 35 inches long with 25-30-inch wingspan, weighs 28-30 pounds
- Colors: Silver, gray, black, white, orange, yellow
- Markings: Genders are similar with a black head and drop-shaped bright orange ear patches. The chin is black with an orange-yellow blush at the base of the throat extending onto the clear white chest. The chest and abdomen are bright white, while the back is a silver gray near the head and shoulders and darkens closer to the tail. Feet are black. Female birds are slightly smaller than males.
Habitat and Migration:
Like all penguins, king penguins spend most of their lives at sea in Antarctic waters. Nesting sites can be found on scattered islands and beaches, including the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego, and because of the birds’ long breeding cycles nesting areas are continually occupied by different birds. At sea, king penguins can be found from the tip of South America east to the waters south of Australia and New Zealand.
Penguins are vocal birds that rely on sound for identification of different individuals, particularly between mates or parents and their chicks. The basic call is a raspy “wah-wah-wah” for adults, while chicks have a much higher pitched squeaky whistle.
These gregarious birds gather in tremendous nesting colonies that number tens of thousands of birds. In those colonies, chicks will be gathered into groups to be minded by several adults while parents are at sea. While fishing, king penguins can dive up to 700 feet deep and may make more than 100 dives per day. They are outstanding swimmers and can see better underwater than in the air, allowing them to pursue prey in dim waters.
King penguins have the longest breeding cycle of all the penguin species, and a mated pair of these monogamous birds will raise two chicks in a three year cycle. A single egg is laid and incubated for 55 days, with each parent rotating in 6-18 day shifts to incubate the egg on its feet and kept warm by a brood pouch. While one parent is incubating the egg, the other parent is at sea. Chicks will stay with their parents for a year or longer until they reach their adult plumage and can fish for themselves.
Attracting King Penguins:
Birders who are able to visit king penguin colonies will find these birds to be inquisitive and bold, often coming right up to humans. While these are clearly not backyard birds, they are commonly found in aquariums and zoos with extensive penguin exhibits, and they have been successfully bred in captivity around the world. The king penguin is also the symbol of the Edinburgh Zoo.