The Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) inhabits the waters surrounding Antarctica. They closely resemble Macaroni Penguins, but instead have a white face and chin instead of the Macaronis’ black face. They stand up to 70 cm tall and weigh between 4 and 5 kg. Royal penguins breed only on Macquarie Island and, like other penguins, spend much of their time at sea, where they are thought to be pelagic.
There is some debate over whether Royal penguins are a sub-species of Macaroni penguins as individuals of the two groups have been known to interbreed, though this is a relatively rare occurrence. Indeed, other penguins have been known to form mixed-species pairs in the wild.
Royal Penguins nest on beaches or on bare areas on slopes covered with vegetation. Like most seabirds they are colonial, nesting in scrapes on the ground up to a mile inland. The breeding season begins in September with egg-laying starting in October. Two eggs are incubated for 35 days, with each incubation stint lasting up to two weeks. After brooding the chick for three weeks, both parents forage at sea while the chicks form large creches. The chicks fledge after two months. Young adults usually return to the colony to breed after six years.
Royal Penguins are not considered threatened; historically they were harvested for their oil, between 1870 and 1919 the government of Tasmania issuing licenses for hunting them, with an average 150,000 penguins (both Royal and King) being taken each year. Since the end of penguin exploitation on Macquarie the numbers have climbed up to 850,000 pairs.
PHOTO CREDIT: A. Dermer (Australian Antarctic Division)