Spotting a King penguin on a whale watching trip in False Bay/Cape Town – this certainly came as a wonderful surprise!
This bird is far off its normal range as illustrated in the accompanying map, but is in good shape as confirmed by SANCCOB and will remain under their caring eyes for the duration of its visit.
This rare event is a real treat for birders – I wonder what our local African penguins make of it?
Interesting facts about king penguins
The king penguin is the second largest species of penguin at 70 to 100 centimeters (2.3 to 3.2 feet) tall and weighs 11 to 16 kilograms (24 to 35 pounds). In size it is second only to the emperor penguin.
There are an estimated 2 to 3.2 million breeding pairs.
Lifespan is 15 to 20 years in the wild, and up to 30 years in captivity.
King penguins eat small fish, mainly lantern fish and squid and rely less than most Southern Ocean predators on krill and other crustaceans.
Ice and water in Antarctica is primarily salty, making it impossible for most animals to drink. The king penguins stomach, however, has adapted to drinking salt water. Its powerful stomach can separate the salt completely, allowing the bird to drink without becoming dehydrated.
The body is a dark black and grey mix all down the back. They have dark yellow on their bill and the back of the neck. They also have this yellow color on the front as the bit of black there gives way to the rest being all white.
To keep warm, King penguins have four layers of feathering.The outer layer of feathers are oiled and waterproof, not unlike the feathering of a duck.
The king penguin is one of the most elegant of all penguin species as it’s long and slender body helps the king penguin to glide through the water with great ease.
The average cruising speed for a King Penguin while swimming ranges somewhere between 5 and 10 km per hour (3 to 5 miles per hour).
King penguins are excellent divers and have been known to dive as deep as 300 meters (980 ft)!
King Penguins live on the sub-antarctic islands at the northern reaches of Antarctica, as well as Tierra del Fuego, the Falkland Islands and other temperate islands of the region.
King Penguins form gigantic colonies when they come in to shore during the mating season. One colony at South Georgian Island is estimated to have over 200,000 birds.
King Penguins are “serially monogamous” – they mate with only one mate per season, working with their mate to hatch the egg and care for the chick. However, unlike some other species of penguin, they’re not so likely to return to the same mate the next year – about 70% will find a new mate the following season.
King penguins are one of the few birds that do not build nests, eggs are incubated under the belly on top of their feet.
It takes 54 days for the eggs to hatch, during which time males and females take shifts incubating them.
After hatching, parental duties continue to be equally shared by both male and female, with one staying on land to brood the chick while the other goes in search of food at sea.
When the chick reaches around six weeks old, it joins a group of chicks known as a creche, thus allowing both parents to go foraging at the same time, in order to bring back enough food for the voracious offspring.
The creche provides the woolly chicks with protection from predators, as well as the benefit of collective warmth.
The chick grows a warm brown fluffy down of feathers. They also grow a thick layer of blubber to keep them warm during the winter months ahead.
The chicks huddle in their creches during the winter months while the parents occasionally come onshore to feed them. In the spring the parents come back and start feeding the chicks again.
At this time, the chicks starts to grow their adult feathers and are ready to go off on their own. Raising a King penguin chick usually takes 10 to 13 months.
Once a young King Penguin does leave its colony it will not return until at least 3 years later when it’s able to mate.
At sea, the key predators of King penguins are the leopard seals and killer whales who wait beneath the surface near the shore for unsuspecting birds.
Some king penguin colonies were completed exterminated. This occurred as a result of hunting in the 19th and 20th Centuries. People hunted the king penguins for their skin, oil, blubber and eggs.
King penguins have legal protection from hunting and the collection of their eggs. According to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, it is illegal to harm or interfere with any penguin or its eggs.
Today, the king penguin populations in the sub-Antarctic Oceans appear to be thriving and better still increasing in numbers with more than two million breeding pairs of king penguins found around the freezing waters.
Like almost all animals, king penguins ordinarily have round pupils in their eyes. However, this all changes when their pupils constrict. Of all king penguin facts, one of the most bizarre is that, when constricted, a king penguin’s pupils are actually square in shape.