Royal Penguins are often confused with Macaroni Penguins, however they can easily be distinguished from the other crested penguins by their pale white or gray chins and faces. The bird’s scientific name commemorates the German zoologist Hermann Schlegel. The word Penguin first appears in the 16th century as a synonym for the now extinct Great Auk. When European explorers discovered what are today known as Penguins in the Southern Hemisphere, they noticed their similar appearance to the Great Auk of the Northern Hemisphere and named them after this seabird, although they are not closely related. The crown of their heads, their backs and flippers are black and they have orange bills and yellow crests above their eyes. Royal Penguins are a migratory species that spends their time, outside of the breeding season in the southern seas between Australia & Antarctica. They breed on Macquarie Island which is between Tasmania & Antarctica, however smaller breeding colonies have also been recorded on New Zealand’s South Island & Campbell Island. They feed on krill, small fish and squid. The main predators of Royal Penguins are Leopard Seals, Southern Fur Seals and sometimes Killer Whales. Predation rates in the colonies are relatively low with some unguarded chicks and eggs taken by Skuas, Black-backed Seagulls (eggs only) and Giant Petrels (chicks only).
Royal Penguins reach sexual maturity around 1-year of age. Breeding season begins in September when male birds return to the colony to build nests, which are typically made of small stones and lined with grass. The females arrive about 2 weeks later and males begin the mating display of head swinging and calling. Females lay 2 eggs in October, with the 2nd typically the only 1 incubated which lasts for 30-40 days. Colonies are large and often found near Rockhopper Penguin colonies. When a Royal Penguin chick hatches, the male stands guard for up to 3 weeks while the female forages at sea. At the end of this phase the chicks need more food, therefore both parents forage while the chicks gather in small groups. At about 2 months, the chicks fledge.