King Penguin


This time, we will introduce you to the king penguin, which is said to be the second largest in body size in the world! You can see king penguins at aquariums all over Japan, but we have collected a lot of information about their ecology and secrets!
Why are they called king? The chicks are chubby and cute! But is there a reason for that?
Let’s take a look at the secrets of king penguins right away!



~ Basic information. ~

Aves-Sphenisciformes-Spheniscidae-King Penguin genus.




Male: about 16kg.

Female: about 14.3kg.
※For adult birds living on South Georgia Island.

■Flipper (wing) length.

Male: 34.3cm. Female: 33.1cm.
※For adult birds living on South Georgia Island.

■Beak length.

Male: 13.7cm. Female: 12.9cm.
※For adult birds living on South Georgia Island.

■Estimated number of individuals.(FY2017)


King penguins are also called by different Japanese names such as “Ousama Penguin” or “Oosama Penguin”, but on this page we will basically use the name king penguin to introduce them.

The appearance of king penguins is characterized by black from the head to the throat, and orange stripes on the neck. The belly is white, the back is covered with silver-gray, and the feet are blackish gray. The upper part of the beak is black, but the lower part is pink or orange. The males and females look exactly the same, making it difficult to tell them apart, but generally the males are larger.


King penguins land on sub-Antarctic islands around November to breed. They then form groups called rookeries and mate with each other. The pair bond is relatively weak, and it is also a characteristic that they do not make a fixed nest. The female lays one large egg between December and February, and the incubation is done alternately by the male and female. They warm the egg by placing it on their feet, which is a behavior that is only seen in king penguins and emperor penguins.


The incubation period is said to be about 54 days, and after this period, the chick is born safely. For about 30 to 40 days after birth, the parent bird wraps it in its belly and feeds it alternately. When it grows up to a certain extent, the chick is left in a group called a creche, but during that period, the parent bird goes to the sea to look for food and continues to feed it.


By the time they are 3 months old, they grow to almost the same weight as their parents, and they leave the nest around December to January of the next year. The fluffy down that covered the chick’s body gradually changes into feathers, and eventually changes into the same appearance as an adult. The parenting period from incubation to fledging is said to be about 14 to 16 months, which is also a characteristic of king penguins that they have a longer fledging period than other penguins.

出典: Georgia (Fortuna Bay)–King penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus) 03.jpg



King Penguin’s Q&A.

Where does the name King Penguin come from?

In the 18th century, an explorer discovered South Georgia Island and witnessed a very large penguin there. This penguin was named king penguin because it was the largest among the types he had seen so far. This is the origin of the king penguin.


Why do king penguins live there?

King penguins prefer relatively warm sub-Antarctic regions as their breeding grounds, and choose islands between 45 and 55 degrees south latitude. These include South Georgia Island, the Falkland Islands, Kerguelen Island, Crozet Islands, Prince Edward Islands and Marion Island, Heard Island, Macquarie Island, and so on. King penguins have also been sighted in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia, but it is likely that they have drifted ashore outside the sub-Antarctic.

Thus, king penguins seem to prefer places where there is not much sea ice, but no clear reason has been found. However, it is possible that king penguins breed near the islands because there are many squid and octopus, which are their food, living around them.


What do king penguins eat?

They dive into the sea and eat bioluminescent creatures such as squid, octopus, and lanternfish. The chicks get regurgitated fish from their parents by mouth.


Why are king penguin chicks so big?

The chicks are so big that they can be mistaken for female or male king penguins. There are some reasons for this, so let me introduce them to you.

■To protect yourself from the cold.

King penguins breed in the relatively warm sub-Antarctic, but sometimes cold rain and wind attack the chicks’ bodies. At such times, the fluffy down acts like a cold-proof clothing and protects the chicks’ bodies.

出典: penguin – Zürich Zoo 09.jpg

■To endure a fasting state.

From March to August, when the sub-Antarctic enters winter, the number of food also decreases. The parent birds, who initially alternated feeding the chicks, gradually become unable to secure their own share, and cannot feed the chicks. The chicks overcome this hard fasting period by using the fat they have accumulated as nutrients. As a result, their body weight decreases to about 2/3 of what it was in summer. Around September, the parent birds resume feeding the chicks, but unfortunately, many chicks die without being able to survive the fasting period.

By the way, have you ever seen a scene where the chick shrinks its neck and makes its body small while following behind the parent bird? It seems that this is an appeal strategy to get more food by saying “I’m still so small, so please give me more food!”


What is the difference between king penguins and emperor penguins?

If you have ever seen king penguins and emperor penguins, you may have noticed! These two species look very similar, and it can be hard to tell them apart at a glance. Here we will introduce you to the specific differences between them by comparing them.

■Habitat differences.

King penguins live mainly on the warm sub-Antarctic islands, while emperor penguins live on the Antarctic continent, which changes to extreme cold in winter. Therefore, it can be said that these two species hardly meet each other.

■Differences in appearance.

King penguins are 85-95 cm in body length, while emperor penguins are 100-130 cm. In other words, king penguins are one size smaller than emperor penguins. To give an example in human terms, the maximum body length of king penguins is about the same height as a 3-year-old child, and the maximum body length of emperor penguins is about the same height as an 8-9-year-old child.

Another characteristic of both species is that they have yellowish or orange stripes on their necks. The pattern of king penguins is connected, while the pattern of emperor penguins is separated when you look closely. This stripe may be the easiest point to distinguish them.

■Differences in chicks.

The chicks of king penguins are covered with fluffy brown down, while the chicks of emperor penguins have fluffy gray down and black markings on their heads. Unlike adults, chicks are easy to tell apart.

I want to know more about the personality of the king penguin!

If I had to describe them in one word, I would say they are “calm and gentle birds”. Sometimes, when another king penguin enters their territory, they try to shoo them away by slapping them with their wings, but they hardly ever fight fiercely. Probably, king penguins are used to living in groups because they usually live in flocks.

Is there a place where I can see king penguins?

As of November 2021, there are many places in Japan where king penguins are kept, so I will introduce them by region.

■Hokkaido region.

Asahiyama Zoo (Asahikawa City, Hokkaido), Noboribetsu Marine Park Nixe (Noboribetsu City, Hokkaido).

■Tohoku region.

Sendai Umino-Mori Aquarium (Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture).

■Kanto region.

Kamogawa Sea World (Kamogawa City, Chiba Prefecture), Tobu Zoo (Miyashiro Town, Saitama Prefecture), Kasai Rinkai Aquarium (Edogawa Ward, Tokyo), Maxell Aqua Park Shinagawa (Minato Ward, Tokyo), Hakkeijima Sea Paradise (Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture), Hakone-en Aquarium (Hakone Town, Kanagawa Prefecture), Shimoda Aquarium (Shimoda City, Shizuoka Prefecture).

■Chubu region.

Shimoda Aquarium (Shimoda City, Shizuoka Prefecture), Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens (Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture), Minamichita Beach Land (Mihama Town, Aichi Prefecture), Toyohashi General Zoo and Botanical Park – Non Hoi Park (Toyohashi City, Aichi Prefecture), Echizen Matsushima Aquarium (Sakai City, Fukui Prefecture).

Kinki region.

Kaiyukan (Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture), Tennoji Zoo (Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture) Adventure World (Shirahama Town, Wakayama Prefecture) Kinosaki Marine World (Toyooka City, Hyogo Prefecture).

■Chugoku region.

Shimane Aquarium Aquas (Hamada City, Shimane Prefecture).

■Shikoku region.

Tobe Zoo (Tobe Town, Ehime Prefecture).

■Kyushu region.

Nagasaki Penguin Aquarium (Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture).

Also, for those who want to see the real king penguins in the wild, there is also the option of joining an Antarctic cruise. The travel cost will be high, but you can apply through a travel agency. Why don’t you try it as a reference?


Do king penguins have natural enemies?

King penguins also have enemies, mainly killer whales and leopard seals. Also, a bird called the brown skua targets the chicks. However, the biggest enemy for king penguins may be humans.

King penguins are currently classified as “least concern” by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature). The main cause is “the decrease of food due to the rise of sea surface temperature”.

As global warming melts the ice and raises the sea surface temperature, the number of plankton that live there decreases, and the number of fish such as lanternfish that feed on plankton also decreases. And king penguins that eat fish also suffer from the impact of food shortage.

In addition, not only fish but also squid and octopus are changing their habitats due to climate change, so there is a risk that the place where they catch food will become farther and farther from the land, and they will have to keep the hungry chicks in the creche waiting for a long time. This could lead to the possibility of the chicks starving to death.

In this way, there are voices of concern that phenomena that were unthinkable in the past may occur due to global warming on Earth in recent years. Why don’t we take this opportunity to think together about how to build a better relationship between humans and penguins?


What is the lifespan of a king penguin?

The lifespan of king penguins, who live in the harsh natural world, is up to about 20 years.





ペンギンガイドブック 著者:藤原幸一

ペンギンライブラリー ホシザキ株式会社

Akiko KATO’s page


Pew Charitable Trusts世界のペンギンの保護

BirdLife International Tokyo もっとも絶滅リスクの高いペンギンはどの種でしょうか?

宇宙地球環境研究所 極地50のなぜ