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Royal Penguin

Eudyptes schlegeli

The Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) is a charismatic species of penguin, easily distinguished by its striking appearance. With a length of 65–76 cm (26–30 in) and a weight of 5–6 kg (11–13 lb), these birds are notable for their white face and chin, contrasting with the black visage of their close relative, the Macaroni Penguin. Males are typically larger than females, a common sexual dimorphism among penguins.

Identification Tips

When observing Royal Penguins, look for the distinctive white face that sets them apart from the Macaroni Penguin. Their robust bodies and the crest of yellow feathers above their eyes are also key features. During breeding season, their physical characteristics become more pronounced, aiding in identification.

Habitat

Royal Penguins are pelagic, spending a great deal of time at sea. They are found in the sub-Antarctic waters, particularly around Macquarie Island and adjacent islands, where they breed and forage.

Distribution

This species is endemic to the sub-Antarctic region, with breeding confined to Macquarie Island and nearby islets. Their range is limited, but they are known to travel vast distances across the Southern Ocean.

Behaviour

Royal Penguins are colonial seabirds, often found in large, bustling rookeries. They are known to be quite gregarious, engaging in social behaviors such as mutual preening and vocal communication. During the breeding season, they exhibit strong site fidelity, returning to the same nesting areas each year.

Song & Calls

The rookeries of Royal Penguins are a cacophony of sound, with individuals communicating through a variety of calls. These vocalizations play a crucial role in social interactions and maintaining pair bonds.

Breeding

The breeding season for Royal Penguins commences in September, with egg-laying following in October. They nest in colonies on beaches or vegetated slopes, with nests being simple scrapes in the ground. Typically, two eggs are laid, but usually, only one chick survives. Both parents share incubation duties over a period of approximately 35 days, taking turns in 12-day shifts. After hatching, the male tends to the chick for the first few weeks, with the female returning to provide nourishment. Chicks form crèches for warmth and protection and fledge at just over two months old.

Similar Species

The Macaroni Penguin is the most similar species to the Royal Penguin. However, the Royal can be distinguished by its white face, whereas the Macaroni has a black face.

Diet and Feeding

Royal Penguins primarily feed on krill, supplemented by small fish and squid. During the breeding season, they forage in localized areas, reducing competition for resources with neighboring colonies.

Conservation status

The IUCN lists the Royal Penguin as Least Concern, though they face threats such as introduced predators, plastic pollution, and potential food scarcity due to commercial fishing. Historically, they were hunted for oil, but populations have rebounded since the cessation of hunting practices on Macquarie Island.

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More Penguins

A photo of a King Penguin (Aptenodytes patagonicus)

King Penguin

Aptenodytes patagonicus
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