King Penguin

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image: KingPenguin.jpg

Common Name: King Penguin
Scientific Name: Aptenodytes patagonicus

Size: 36-38 inches (90 cm)

Habitat: Antarctica. They breed on the subantarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, as well as Tierra del Fuego, South Georgia, and other temperate islands of the region. The total population is estimated to be 2.23 million pairs and is increasing.

Status: Not Threatened; however global warming is considered a threat.

Diet: Small fish, squid and crustaceans.

Breeding: The King Penguin is able to breed at three years of age, although only a very small minority actually do then-- the average age of first breeding is around 6 years. King Penguins are serially monogamous. They have only one mate each year, and stay faithful to that mate. However, fidelity between years is only about 29%. The long breeding cycle may contribute to this low rate.

The King Penguin has an unusually prolonged breeding cycle, taking some 14-16 months from laying to offspring fledging. Although pairs will attempt to breed annually, they are generally only successful one year in two, or two years in three in a triennial pattern on South Georgia. The reproductive cycle begins in September to November, as birds return to colonies for a prenuptial moult. Those that were unsuccessful in breeding the previous season will often arrive earlier. They then return to the sea for three weeks before coming ashore in November or December. The female penguin lays one pyriform (pear-shaped) white egg weighing 300 g (⅔ lb) It is initially soft, but hardens and darkens to a pale greenish colour. It measures around 10 x 7 cm (4 x 3 in). The egg is incubated for around 55 days with both birds sharing incubation in shifts of 6-18 days each. Hatching may take up to 2-3 days to complete, and chicks are born semi-altricial and nidicolous. In other words, they have only a thin covering of down and are entirely dependent on their parents for food and warmth. The young chick is brooded in what is called the guard phase, spending its time balanced on its parents' feet and sheltered by its pouch. During this time, the parents alternate every 3-7 days, one incubating while the other forages. This period lasts for 30-40 days before the chicks 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.

By April the chicks are almost fully grown, but lose weight by fasting over the winter months, gaining it again during spring in September. Fledging then takes place in late spring/early summer.

Cool Facts: The King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) is the second largest species of penguin weighing 11 to 16 kg (24 to 35 lb), second only to the Emperor Penguin. There are two subspecies - A. p. patagonicus and A. p. halli; patagonicus is found in the South Atlantic and halli elsewhere.

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

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