King Penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus
Coolest Fact: They nest in enormous colonies, crowded on beaches, of up to 200,000 pairs.
Where It’s Found: Sub-Antarctic islands, including Falklands, South Georgia, Macquarie, Kerguelen and more
· IUCN Status: Least Concern
· Population: 1,600,000 pairs estimated
· Mating: Serially monogamous; faithful for breeding season
· Nesting: Nests made of pebbles on exposed ground
· Annual Cycle: Highly unusual, taking 14 months to raise a chick—so parents breed every other year
· Life span: about 15 years
· Diving and Food: King Penguins can dive about 1600 feet; prey upon some fish (lanternfish)
· Threats: climate change
Our First Sighting: October 20, 2009
South Georgia Island
With their three-foot height and bold orange markings, king penguins may be the most strikingly beautiful penguins of all eighteen species. Surely that’s why king penguins are among the most popular species of penguins. My wife Susan and I adore them. There’s a small colony of king penguins at Volunteer Point in the Falkland Islands.
One afternoon, almost a decade ago, I watched a pair of king penguins as they courted. They imitated each other as they walked about the colony. One would strike a pose, typically lifting its peak skyward, orange slash pointing upward. The mate would strike a similar pose. They held the pose, creating mirror images. For several hours they posed for each other. Then their courtship shifted. The female stood still while the male approached and gently entwined his neck about hers. It was extraordinarily tender. This they did several times. It is the prelude to mating.
Scientists believe that this mirroring, so beautifully displayed by king penguins, is the biological origin of empathy. The ability to mirror another is the beginning of learning to feel what another feels. And the neck embraces—penguin hugs—are images of intimacy that will stay with me forever. Do penguins feel? They certainly appear to feel. To us, it looks like penguin love.
This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”