9 Awesome King Penguin Facts

king penguin facts

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King penguins are aptly named because of their large size and beautifully elegant coloration.

These birds are extremely graceful swimmers thanks to their torpedo-shaped hydrodynamic bodies and special waterproof feathers.

However, there is so much more to this incredible penguin species than just their looks and that’s why today I will share with you 9 awesome king penguin facts that will surely leave a lasting impression along with a renewed sense of respect for these icy kings.

Read along to learn more about their unique breeding strategies, amazing diving abilities, incredible adaptations for living in sub-freezing temperatures, how they can stay hydrated living in saltwater, and much more.

1. King Penguins Are Exceptional Divers

King penguins can dive as deep as 360 m / 1,180 feet while looking for food.

Just so you have a reference of how incredibly deep that is I will share with you the fact that the Eiffel tower is 300 m / 984 feet tall. 

Or, that the statue of liberty stands at a height of 93 m / 305 feet so you would need 3.9 lady liberties stacked up one on top of the other in order to have the 360 m / 1,180 feet that the king penguin can dive.

These sea birds can hold their breath for up to 20 minutes during these dives.

This depth of the ocean is called the dysphotic or twilight zone and it gets so dark that even though king penguins are diurnal predators they have evolved excellent night vision which allows them to be on the lookout for predators, such as orcas and seals while hunting for their preferred prey item: fish.

2. King Penguins Don’t Build A Nest

King penguins hold the record for the longest breeding cycle among all 18 penguin species spending between 14 – 16 months rearing their chick from birth until independence.

On top of that, you must add the courtship period plus the egg incubation which lasts around 54 days.

These birds are monogamous and/or seasonally monogamous which means that a bonded pair will remain together AT LEAST for an entire breeding season with some pairs mating for longer.

During this time both parents are heavily invested in caring for the single egg that the female will lay and eventually, in rearing the chick.

king penguin facts
Image: 57Andrew via Flickr

What is peculiar about this is the fact that king penguins don’t build a nest and instead keep the egg, and chick, on top of their feet carrying it everywhere they go.

While placed in the webbed feet of the adult penguin the egg, and in time the chick, is kept warm by remaining under the penguin’s “brood patch” which is a sagging fold of abdominal skin.  

3. King Penguins Are The Second Largest Penguin Species

Standing at an average height of 94 cm / 37 in. and weighing around 16 kg / 35 lbs. the king penguin is not only the second largest penguin species but also about the same height and weight as your average 3-year-old. 

The only species that is larger is the emperor penguin and as a matter of fact, the king penguin received its name because it was believed to be the largest penguin species.

It wasn’t until 1884 that the emperor penguin was officially recognized as a different species. 

4. King Penguins Are Highly Social

King penguins are very social. The average size of a colony is around 39,000 breeding pairs with some larger colonies having up to 600,000 birds!

Dominant pairs tend to nest and rest at the center of the colony as it provides more protection against land predators. 

These marine birds are also extremely vocal and have unique vocalizations that allow them to call for their mates and offspring. 

When the chicks are old enough to stay by themselves on land while the parents go on foraging dives parents can locate their offspring among the several thousand chicks in the colony without any issues by identifying its unique call. 

5. King Penguins Can Drink Saltwater

It’s very important for land animals living near the sea to have a reliable source of freshwater as saltwater can dehydrate you very fast.

This is even more of an issue if you were to live in Antarctica as the water is even saltier there.

king penguin on rocks

Luckily for the king penguin, these birds are actually designed to separate the water from the salt and filter out the latter!

This incredible adaptation takes place thanks to the supraorbital gland near the penguins’ eyes which traps the salt and expels it as a nose-drip.

6. King Penguin Feathers Are Extremely Special

Most animals living in sub-freezing temperatures rely on thick layers of fat and blubber to keep them warm.

However, this is not the case for king penguins who are completely dependent on their 4 layers of tightly packed feathers to keep warm in the cold Antarctic environment.

The 3 innermost layers of feathers are very thick and their sole purpose is to trap and conserve heat.

The outermost layer, on the other hand, is oily and waterproof to ensure that the penguin will not sink to the sea bottom after getting all its feathers wet and that the innermost layers remain dry and warm. 

7. King Penguins Can’t Hop!

Unlike most penguin species the majestic king penguin can’t hop so while moving on land it will either walk displaying the typical penguin waddle you and I know and love, or it will move through the ice by “tobogganing”.

Tobogganing looks just as fun as it sounds! It’s basically just sliding across the ice while laying on their bellies and using their feet to propel themselves forward.

This enables king penguins to travel long distances very quickly.

8. King Penguins Have A Voracious Appetite 

Each adult king penguin can skillfully catch and devour around 2,000 fish PER DAY!

These birds are very effective hunters who can easily eat at least 3 kg / 7 lbs of food daily. Their preferred prey item is small fish, especially lanternfish. 

king penguins
Image: Anita Ritenour via Flickr

Barracudas and scholars are also part of the king penguins’ diet as are krill, crustaceans, and squid.

9. King Penguin Populations Are Increasing

Due to the extremely harsh and cold weather of Antarctica, it is the only continent in the world that lacks human inhabitants which means that human activity has very little impact on king penguin populations. 

And thanks to the fact that king penguins have a varied diet, overfishing doesn’t pose a threat to them for now.