Royal penguins

Royal penguin
Royal penguin (Photo: Dave Bone)
Massed royal penguinsSeveral royal penguins at Sandy BayRoyal penguins heading up Nuggets CreekTwo royal penguins stand rather close to each other and look to the left of the photoRoyal penguin with a rock in its beakMoulting royal penguin chick. It has tufts of down feathers though the crown of yellow feathers is starting to showA large elephant seal lies in the middle of a herd of royal penguins, one of which is standing on its back as it looks nonplussedRoyal penguin asleep on the ground

Scientific name: Eudyptes schlegeli

Name derivation

Royal penguins are one species of the crested penguin group (genus Eudyptes), so-named for their yellow crest on their heads.

Physical description and related species

lt is now recognised that royal penguins are a separate species to macaroni penguins. In the past some taxonomists have linked them with macaroni penguins found on Heard Island (Australian territory), South Georgia and several other subantarctic Islands. Royal penguins have a white chin and macaroni penguins have a black chin.

Males are larger than females.

Distribution and abundance

Royal penguins live in very large colonies. The largest colony at Hurd Point on Macquarie Island has around 500,000 pairs.

Royal penguins are migratory, leaving Macquarie Island after the breeding season. It is unknown where they go during this time, although there have been sightings from Tasmania to the Antarctic sector of the Southern Ocean. During the breeding season, all feeding is undertaken in the Polar Frontal Zone, and the area of the zone changes with the stage in the breeding season. During the incubation stage birds travel over 600 km from Macquarie Island and back again in three weeks.

Conservation status: vulnerable

For many years, they were killed and boiled down for oil.


The only place in the world that royal penguins (Eudyptes schlegeli) breed is Macquarie Island.

Royal penguins have a highly synchronised cycle beginning when the males arrive in late-September to claim nest sites. The females arrive in early October and lay their eggs in mid- to late-October with the chicks hatching about 30 days later.

Royal and macaroni penguins lay two eggs. The first is small and is discarded. No one knows the reason for this yet.

Males then guard the chicks for three to four weeks, until the chicks are large enough to join creches. From mid-January onward both parents are free to feed the chick and each adult foraging cycle lasts about two days.

The chicks fledge in late February, after which the parents return to sea to fatten for the moult which begins in mid-March. After they moult, the royal penguins remain at sea until the next breeding season. Rockhopper penguins have a very similar schedule except that each stage of the cycle is delayed by three to four weeks.

Diet and feeding

The diet of the royal penguin is composed of euphausiids (26% of the diet) and myctophid fish (52%) and the remainder squid and other crustaceans. The proportions change marginally throughout the breeding cycle. The diet differs at colonies around the island, particularly between the east and west coasts and shows substantial annual differences.