Emperor Penguin

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image: emperorpenguin.jpg

Common Name: Emperor Penguin
Scientific Name: Aptenodytes forsteri

Size: 42 inches (110 cm)

Habitat: Antarctica. Emperor Penguins are found circumpolar around Antarctica. They are social birds and they feed, travel and nest in groups. They are active during the day or night and from January to March they disperse into the ocean.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: 270,000 - 350,000 mature individuals. Global warming is considered a threat.

Diet: Small fish, squid and crustaceans. They mainly dive to around 50 m (164 ft) to forage for food and one of their feeding strategies is to blow bubbles into cracks in the ice to flush out any fish that may be hiding.

Breeding: Emperor Penguins breed in winter and will travel approximately 90 km inland to their breeding site. In May or June the female will lay 1 egg that weighs approximately 450g then she leaves it with the male while she goes out to sea to feed and build up her nutritional reserves.

Male Emperor Penguins have an abdominal fold between their legs and lower abdomen that is known as their "brood pouch". This protects their egg and chick during the breeding season.

The male carries the egg on his feet and protects it with a pouch of feathery skin. He incubates it for approximately 65 days and during this time he will not feed, surviving on the fat reserves he has built up. To protect themselves against the cold, severe weather Emperor Penguins huddle together in what is known as the "turtle formation". The huddles can consist of 10 or hundreds of birds and each bird leans forward on a neighbor. Those on the outside shuffle slowly around the edge producing a churning action that gives each bird a turn in the middle. All the males huddle together to keep warm while they wait for their egg to hatch and the female to return.

In spring the female returns and the chick emerges from its egg. If the chick hatches before the female has returned with food, the male will produce a milky substance from a gland in his digestive system to feed the chick. After the female has returned the males then leave to go out to sea to feed, later returning to help rear the chick.

When the chicks are approximately 2 months old they will join other young penguins in a creche, but they are still fed by their parents. After approximately 5 months the young birds and their parents will return to the sea to feed for the rest of the summer.

Emperor Penguins become sexually mature at around 5 years of age. Those that are not of breeding age remain at the edge of the sea during the winter months, while the breeding adults make the trek inland.

Cool Facts: Emperor Penguins are the largest species of Penguin. Emperor Penguins are the 5th heaviest bird currently in existence. Emperor Penguins swim at speeds of 6 - 9 Km/hr (4 - 6 mph) but they can reach speeds of 19 km/hr (12 mph) in short bursts.

The call of each Emperor Penguin is distinct and males and females can be identified by their differing calls. On land they alternate between walking and "tobogganing" along on their stomachs, propelling themselves with their feet and wings.

The main predators of Emperor Penguins are leopard seals, killer whales, sharks, skua and Antarctic giant petrels.


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