The King Penguin is the largest of the Sub-Antarctic classification of penguin. It can be up to 3 feet in height, its front and the underside of its flippers are pure white and the rest is a dark slate blue colour. It has orange or yellow coloration to the bill, the top of the breast and a teardrop shaped marking each side at the back of the head. Uniquely amongst penguins, they have a breeding cycle which lasts about 16 months, so they typically breed once every 18 months. Only one egg is laid (sometimes 2 but the smaller is discarded) and this is incubated by each parent in turn on a special fold near the feet which they use as a sort of pouch.The eggs take about 15 weeks to incubate. Shortly after birth, the chicks develop what is known as their 'mesoptile' plumage. This is a thick fluffy brown down which they retain for more than a year. Kings form their rookeries on the sub-Antarctic islands, do not build nests, and sometimes form very large colonies indeed.
Amongst the noise, smell and bustle of these enormous rookeries parents are able to identify their own chicks and vice-versa. The parents will go to sea to eat their fill of krill, squid and small fish. They then return to the rookery, find their chick and feed it by regurgitating partly digested food into the chicks open beak. A king will only feed its own chick and this means that if an accident befalls the parents at sea (killer whaleor something), the chick will die - ignored by the others in the rookery. Since chicks cannot 'fledge' (which for penguins means to enter the sea) until they have discarded their brown down, they sometimes form their own groups or creches near pools on the shore.
King Penguins look, in some ways, similar to Emperors but they have very different breeding cycles, habitats and characteristics. These pictures were taken on the sub-Antartcic islands of Crozet and Kerguelen in November 2003. The rookeries here are very large indeed with up to 200,000 breeding pairs.