Marine Biology

The Courtship and Breeding Cycle of King Penguins

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"The Courtship and Breeding Cycle of King Penguins"
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A King Penguin lives up to its name. The illustrious King is found off the barren coasts of the sub-Antarctic Islands. The penguin is 30 inches tall and weighs 20 to 30 pounds. Their bodies are slim. Their heads are brownish-black, but on each side of the head are vivid orange feathers that are tear-shaped.Their chests are white and the orange feathers from each side of the head encircle the neck. The orange feathers are extremely pertinent to attract the male.

King Penguins do not court until they are six years old.


The King penguins come ashore to molt. They spend two weeks molting. They shed their old feathers and reveal their brilliant new coat. The back of the King is silvery-gray. The head is brownish-black. The new orange feathers on each side are vivid. They slip back into the sea to feed and build up their food reserves before breeding. They strut their way through the grass and mud. The male takes his position and advertises for a mate. His neck stretches upward, ruffs out his feathers and tilts his head back. With his head leaning back, he brays like a donkey. If an unmated female hears him, she wanders over and introduces herself. They wave their bills up and down signaling interest. They set off together, on toe tips and strut, waving their back and forth like a flag to show off their bright patches of color. The color is essential to the male for picking his mate.

The male does not pick the first female. He struts his stuff and advertises to other females. When he attracted to one, he pays more attention to her. They strengthen their bond as they form another display. They stand next to each other and stand again on the tips of their toes and look as if they are stretching.


After courtship, the different King couple females begin laying eggs. The eggs are laid in November, and later courtship Kings lay eggs until March. The female only lays one large egg. The male penguin balances the egg on his feet, and lowers his fold of skin to cover it like a blanket. The female goes out to sea to replenish her food reserves. The small territory he protects is only as far as he can move with the incubating egg. The female returns approximately two weeks later. Each parent begin a shuttle service between them and take turns guarding the egg. The same shuttle service lasts as the chicks grow.

In time, the chicks form crèches where they huddle together while their parents search for food. The most amazing fact is that the chicks recognize their parents' sounds. The parents walk up to the crèche and calls. The chick and parents walk to each other calling. They may walk past each other until a second call brings them back together. The parents feed the chicks several pounds of food and the chicks rapidly gain weight. Winter slows down the feeding process slows down. The chicks once again huddle in their crèches. They have thick, woolly down to protect them from the cold. The chicks do lose weight during this time. Spring arrives and the chicks regain, and add more weight. They lose their down and adult plumage emerges.

The parents take care of their chicks for 10-13 months (depending on when the female laid the egg).The young stay at sea. They come ashore periodically to practice their courting displays. At six years old, the courtship rite begins again.

The courtship to breeding cycle takes a total of two years.

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