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 inland.
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.