Royals look very much like Macaroni Penguins, but have a white
face and chin instead of the Macaronis' black visage. They are
65–76 cm (26–30 in) long and weigh 3–8 kg (6.6–18
lb). Males are larger than females. They are not to be confused
with the similarly named King Penguin or Emperor Penguin. There
is some controversy over whether Royal Penguins are a sub-species
of Macaroni Penguins. 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.
The Royal Penguin (Eudyptes schlegeli) inhabits the waters surrounding
Antarctica. Royal Penguins breed only on Macquarie Island and,
like other penguins, spend much of their time at sea, where they
are assumed to be pelagic. 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
The breeding season begins in September with laying starting in
October. They build their nest by making a shallow hole in the
sand or in a weeded area. They put plants and stones inside the
nest. Most of the time, two eggs are often laid, however, only
one survives. The egg is kept warm by both parents for 35 days.
This is done by rotating 12 day shifts. After hatching, the male
watches out for the chick for 10 to 20 days and the female brings
food for both of them. Around 20 days, the chicks will form a
home for warmth and safety. The parents continue to feed it 2
to 3 times a day. When the chick is about 65 days old it will
have its adult feathers and goes on its own.
Royal Penguins feed on krill, fish, and small amounts of squid.
Royal Penguins are not considered threatened. Historically they
were harvested for their oil; between 1870 and 1919 the government
of Tasmania issuing licences for hunting them, with an average
of 150,000 penguins (both Royal and King) being taken each year.
Since the end of penguin hunting on Macquarie the numbers have
climbed to 850,000 pairs. Before hunting started, there were 3
million penguins on the island (both Royal and King). On land,
rats take some eggs and young. Breeding success can be reduced
as a result of disturbance by researchers and tourists. Marine
pollution, particularly ingested plastics, kills some birds. Fishing
around sub-Antarctic islands may also adversely affect the species.
The most likely long-term threat is the effect of climate change
on sea-surface temperature and food supply.