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Species Guide

Emperor Penguin

Aptenodytes forsteri

The emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri) stands as the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species, endemic to the harsh climes of Antarctica. Both male and female are similar in plumage and size, reaching up to 100 cm in length and weighing between 22 to 45 kg. Their striking appearance is marked by black feathers on the head and back, contrasting sharply with the white belly, pale-yellow breast, and bright-yellow ear patches.

Identification Tips

Adult emperor penguins can be identified by their deep black dorsal feathers, which cover the head, chin, throat, back, and dorsal part of their flippers. The underparts of the wings and belly are white, transitioning to pale yellow on the upper breast, with distinctive bright yellow ear patches. The bill is black on the upper mandible, with the lower mandible varying in color from pink to lilac.


Emperor penguins breed on stable pack ice near the Antarctic coast, often seeking shelter from the wind by ice cliffs and icebergs. They are known to form breeding colonies, which can be vast, containing several thousand individuals.


These penguins have a circumpolar distribution in Antarctica, typically found between the 66° and 77° south latitudes. They are almost exclusively found on pack ice, with some colonies located on shelf ice and, rarely, on land.


Emperor penguins are highly sociable, both in their nesting and foraging behavior. They may coordinate their diving and surfacing when hunting together. These birds are known for their remarkable diving ability, reaching depths of 535 m and remaining submerged for around 20 minutes.

Song & Calls

Emperor penguins rely on a complex set of vocal calls for individual recognition, as they have no fixed nest sites. Their calls are critical for communication between parents, offspring, and mates, with the widest variation in individual calls of all penguins.


The emperor penguin is the only species to breed during the Antarctic winter, trekking up to 120 km over the ice to breeding colonies. The female lays a single egg, which the male incubates for just over two months. The lifespan of these penguins is typically 20 years in the wild, with some individuals living up to 50 years.

Similar Species

The emperor penguin can be confused with the king penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus), but the emperor is distinguishable by its larger size and the coloration of its ear patches.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of the emperor penguin primarily consists of fish, but also includes crustaceans such as krill, and cephalopods like squid. They are adept hunters, diving deep and using their streamlined bodies and flippers to navigate the marine environment efficiently.

Conservation Status

The emperor penguin is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN. The species faces threats from climate change, which affects sea ice and food availability, as well as human disturbance and industrial fisheries. Conservation efforts are focused on understanding and mitigating these impacts to ensure the survival of this iconic species.

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Emperor Penguins on Birda

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06 Apr 2024 - 5:37pm

More Penguins

A photo of a King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

King Penguin

Aptenodytes patagonicus
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