King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus )


There are two recognized subspecies:

A. p. patagonicus - The Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
A. p. halli - Indian Ocean and South Pacific.

Significant size variation occurs between the island groups and there is evidence of genetic isolation between colonies.


This is the second largest penguin and stand 85-95cm tall. Males weigh approximately16.5kg and females 14.3kg, but this vaires depending on stresses such as chick-rearing and time away from feeding grounds. Adult King penguins have an orange-yellow patch on the lower neck and gray-black backs. Very similar to Emperor Penguin which rarely found away from the Antarctic Continent. The tear-drop shaped ear patch is orange (rather than yellow on Emperor Penguin) and pinches to a close.

Chicks can be larger than the adults and are browner. Prior to fledging, chicks are covered in thick brown fluff and we called 'woolly penguins' by early explorers.

Where and When

Breed in large colonies on many sub-Antarctic islands (between 46° and 55°S). The most notable are on Crozet, Prince Edward Island, Kerguelen Island, South Georgia and Macquarie Island. The total breeding population is estimated to be over 1,500,000 pairs. Eggs are laid from November to April but colonies usually contain chicks of a variety of ages. Most adults commit to breeding two years out of every three. Each cycle takes at least 14 months.

Immatures and non-breeding adults disperse far from breeding localities, concentrating along the Antarctic Polar Front (where Antarctic and subantarctic surface waters meet), where they feed on squid and fish.


Budd, G. M. (1974) The king penguin Aptenodytes patagonica at Heard Island. In Stonehouse, B. (ed.) Biology of Penguins 337;

Budd, G.M., Downes, M.C. (1965) Recolonization of Heard Island by the king penguin, Aptenodytes patagonica. The Emu 64(4): 302-316

Budd, G.M. (1968) Population increase in the king penguin, Aptenodytes patagonica, at Heard Island. The Auk 85(4): 689-690

Budd, G.M. (1970) Further population growth in the Heard Island king penguins. The Auk 87(2): 366-367

Budd, G.M. (1973) Status of the Heard Island king penguins in 1971. The Auk 90(1): 195-196

Gales, R., Pemberton, D. (1988) Recovery after exploitation of the King penguin population at Heard Island. Australian Journal of Wildlife Research 15: 578-585

Hindell, M.A. (1987) The diet of the king penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus, at Macquarie Island. Ibis 130: 193-203

Marchant and Higgins (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Vol 1. Oxford University Press.

Moore, G.J, Robertson, G., Wienecke, B. (1998) Food requirements of breeding king penguins at Heard Island and potential overlap with commercial fisheries G. Hempel, (ed.) Polar Biology 20: 293-302

Moore, G.J., Wienecke, B., Robertson, G. (1999) Seasonal change in foraging areas and dive depths of breeding king penguins at Heard Island G. Hempel, (ed.) Polar Biology 21: 376-384

Reilly, P. (1994) Penguins of the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Rounsevell, D.E. (1984) King penguins. The Tasmanian Naturalist 79: 4

Rounsevell, D.E., Copson, G.R. (1982) Growth rate and recovery of a king penguin, Aptenodytes patagonicus, population after exploitation. Australian Wildlife Research 9. 519-525

van den Hoff, J., Kirkwood, R.J., Copley, P.B. (1993) Aspects of the breeding cycle of king penguins Aptenodytes patagonicus at Heard Island. Marine Ornithology 21: 49-55

Wienecke, B., Robertson, G., Moore, G. (1998) Growing emperors and kings New Zealand Natural Sciences 23: 229

Williams, T. D. (1995) The Penguins. Oxford Unversity Press, Oxford.

Woehler, E. J. (1993). The Distribution and Abundance of Antarctic and Subantarctic Penguins. Cambridge University Press.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson

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