Aptenodytes forsteri G. R. Gray, 1844, Antarctic Seas.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
French: Manchot empereur; German: Kaiserpinguin; Spanish: Pingьino Emperador.
39.4–51.2 in (100–130 cm); female weight 44.5–70.5 lb (20.2–32 kg); male 48.3–88 lb (21.9–40 kg). The largest penguin is about the same size as the smallest diving marine mammal, the Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis). Bright yellow ear patches contrast sharply with black head, chin, and throat. Back is dark blue-gray, underparts are white shading to pale yellow on upper breast. Bill is slender and down-curving. Eyes are brown. Upper bill is black and lower bill is pink, orange, or lilac. Feet and legs are black. Juvenile is similar to adult but smaller and duller, with white ear-patches and black bill.
Breed on the coast of the Antarctic continent and adjacent islands, from 66° to 78° south latitude. Rarely seen outside of the Antarctic, although migrating birds are occasionally spotted near the Falkland Islands, southern New Zealand, and southern South America.
Cold waters of the Antarctic zone, where pack ice forms. Usually breed on sea ice, often on level sites sheltered by ice cliffs.
Less aggressive than some penguins and
al repertoire is less varied, perhaps because incubating males do not defend territories but instead huddle together for warmth. Nest colonially and forage in groups. Loud vocalizations characterized as trumpeting. Horizontal head-circling signals aggression but is also common during pair formation, copulation, egg-laying, and as part of nest-relief ceremony.
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
Birds appear to coordinate their foraging at sea, diving and surfacing as a group. Main prey type varies with location; in a 1998 study, small fish made up more than 90% of the diet in three locations. Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) were the main prey item, and small cephalopods and crustaceans were also taken. About a third of all dives are deeper than 330 ft (100 m); birds sometimes dive as deep as 1,480 ft (450 m), and may feed near the sea bottom. Birds also feed near the surface along underside of ice where crustaceans gather to graze on algae. May travel 90–620 mi (150–1,000 km) in a single foraging trip.
Less mate-faithful than smaller penguins. After laying a single, large, greenish-white egg, females return to sea to feed. Males incubate alone, fasting for up to 115 days (from arrival at breeding colony to end of incubation, which lasts for 64 days). Chick has comical appearance, with black-and-white head emerging from what looks like a brown fur coat enveloping the body (actually, a layer of insulating down). Females return soon after chicks hatch and parents alternate feeding and brooding duties for 45–50 days. Chicks then form crиches (large numbers of young birds huddle together for warmth, standing close enough to touch one another). They are independent at 150 days. Adults molt after chicks leave colony.
Not threatened. Population stable or increasing; total breeding population was estimated in 1993 to be 314,000 pairs. Susceptible to human disturbance but at present face no major threats.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
Emperor penguins are a key attraction on Antarctic ecotours, and also at Sea World in San Diego, where the Penguin Encounter exhibit is the world’s only successful emperor penguin breeding colony outside of Antarctica.
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