(The Emperor Penguin in the above image is the large one with the yellowish plumage. The smaller ones are Adelie Penguins.)
The Emperor Penguin is the tallest and heaviest of all living penguin species, and the 5th heaviest existing bird. It is endemic to Antarctica, and is the only penguin species that breeds during the Antarctic winter.
The shape of their body helps them to survive. They have short wings that help them to dive up to 900 feet to catch larger fish. They can swim 10-15 kilometers an hour which lets them escape their main enemy, the leopard seal. On land they alternate between walking with a wobbling gait and sliding over the ice on their bellies, propelled by their feet and their flipper-like wings.
Emperor penguins travel about 90 km (56 mi) inland to reach the breeding site. The penguins start courtship in March or April, when the temperature can be as low as -40°C (-40°F). In May or June, the female penguin lays one 450 gram (1 lb) egg, but at this point her nutritional reserves are exhausted, so the egg is immediately rolled to the top of the male's feet. The egg is then incubated or kept warm on the male's feet by a thick fold of skin that hangs from the belly of the male. The males manage to survive by standing huddled in groups for up to 9 weeks. During this time the female returns to the open sea to feed. While the male incubates the egg, he may lose about half his body weight because he does not eat.
When the egg hatches the female returns to care for the chick. Once the female returns, the male will go to the open sea to feed. The male will return in a few weeks and both male and female will tend to the chick by keeping it warm and feeding it food from their stomachs. After 7 weeks of care, the chicks form groups called crèches and huddle together for protection and warmth. They are still fed by the parents. The chicks know their parents by the sound of their call. The chicks are fully grown in 6 months, which is the beginning of the summer season in the Antarctic. At this time all the penguins return to the open sea.
The above picture was taken at the San Diego Seaworld, in March, 2004.
Life on Earth