10 Incredible Emperor Penguin Facts

Written by Jennifer Gaeng
Updated: August 21, 2023
© BFS Man / CC BY 2.0 / flickr – License / Original
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Did you know the largest penguins in the world are Emperor penguins? These flightless birds can reach 1.2 meters (4 feet) in height and can weigh up to 45 kilos (100 pounds)! Being large helps them stay warm since larger bodies are better at retaining heat. Emperor penguins are carnivores that eat krill, fish, and squid for food. Since they are adapted to survive in Antarctica, a substantial portion of the energy they obtain from feeding is used to develop a thick covering of fat around their bodies.

Discover 10 amazing facts about the stately emperor penguin.

Want to know more about these fascinating birds? Let’s look more closely at 10 incredible facts about the Emperor penguin!

1. Emperor Penguin Colonies are So Big They Are Seen from Space

Animals in Antarctica
Colonies of emperor penguins can number up to 5,000, while the colony at Coulman Island has almost 25,000 penguins!

©Sergey 402/Shutterstock.com

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Colony members congregate to protect one another from Antarctica’s cold temperatures and glacier climate. Penguins will congregate to share body heat and protect themselves from harsh winds. They will also switch places so participants can alternately stand on the outer edge, where the conditions are the harshest. Emperor penguin colonies have been located and counted using satellite technology.

Currently, there are about 54 different colonies. Emperor penguins reside in communities known as “colonies.” A colony may include 5,000 penguins or more at once. With almost 25,000 penguins, the Emperor penguin colony at Coulman Island is the biggest one ever seen.

2. Emperor Penguins Are Experts at Diving

Emperor penguins can dive down as far as 1850 feet!

©iStock.com/George Melin

The Emperor penguin is responsible for the deepest dive ever recorded for any bird. They can stay underwater for 20 minutes at a depth of 1,850 feet. The dive that lasted the longest was 28 minutes. Their hemoglobin effectively “shuts down” organs that are not as vital to conserve oxygen. Their robust bones can sustain pressure that is forty times greater than the surface pressure.

3. Emperor Penguins “Toboggan” To Move Around

An Emperor penguin sliding on its front is known as tobogganing.

©Tim Wang / Flickr

On the ice, a penguin moves around by lying down on its stomach and moving ahead by kicking its legs. This behavior is referred to as the “tobogganing” technique. This mode of transportation is suitable for all penguin species, including the regal Emperor penguin. After landing from a dive, they can also complete a backflip.

4. Emperor Penguin Chicks Group Together To Mature

Emperor penguin sheltering circle
A group of emperor penguin chicks huddled to ward off the chill from the frosty wind.

©iStock.com/Gabriele Grassl

Around seven weeks later, chicks gather and form what is known as “creches.” The juvenile penguins congregate in these groupings for warmth and convenient parental care. Emperor penguin chicks form creches seven weeks after birth. The penguins in a creche cluster together for warmth and safety, yet their parents still feed them.

5. Emperor Penguins Live On Ice Shelves Known As “Fast Ice”

Emperor penguins prefer to breed and rest on sheets of “fast ice.”

©Brocken Inaglory / Creative Commons

Ice that is affixed to land or shelves of ice is known as “fast ice.” The solid sheets of ice that the penguins are resting on are made of ocean water that has frozen and solidified. On these icy platforms, breeding lasts almost the entire season. Most colonies are located on fast-ice wedged between islands or icebergs that have grounded.

Emperor penguins have sleek bodies and wings that function as flippers for swimming, and they are all flightless like all penguins. Ice shelves are disintegrating and melting because of climate change and global warming. The habitats of this species of penguin, which spends a substantial portion of the year on ice, are rapidly disappearing, which has a significant impact on their population numbers.

6. Emperor Penguins Launch Out Of The Water By Trapping Air In Their Rear Feathers

Emperor penguins trap air under their wings to launch out of the water!

©Christopher Michel / Flickr

Using air trapped under their wings, Emperor penguins launch themselves out of the water. As a result, they can swim twice as fast as usual and swim back to the ice. Air is caught in a fine, downy mesh at the bases of emperor penguin feathers in microscopic filaments that are just 20 microns in diameter or less than half the breadth of a human hair. The feathers’ bases are clamped shut by separate muscles, sealing in the air that the birds gather.

7. Incubation Happens With Male Emperor Penguins

Penguin, Emperor Penguin, Group Of Animals, Antarctica, Animals In The Wild
Male emperor penguins are given the responsibility of egg incubation while the females leave after laying their eggs to find food.


This species exclusively reproduces throughout the Antarctic winter. When a female penguin has finished nesting, she will go far from her colony to find food. Traveling distances of 80 to 160 kilometers are common, and many females do not come back until the incubation is through, which is typically 60 days.

Males are responsible for egg incubation during this time, braving winds of up to 200 miles per hour and temperatures that can dip to below -50 degrees Celsius. The male can’t go on a foraging trip of hundreds of kilometers without having to wait for the female to return.

8. Emperor Penguin Eggs Are Kept Safe Inside The Brood Pouches of Both Sexes

Emperor penguin chicks are kept warm in their parents’ brood pouches.

©Mtpaley / Creative Commons

Male Emperor penguins incubate their eggs by balancing them on the tops of their feet, then storing them in a brood pouch. This pouch is essentially a specialized abdominal chamber with a feathered skin lining. When the eggs hatch, the mothers are in charge and will transport their young using their pouches. Without the safety and warmth of these pouches, chicks in the Antarctic would likely die in less than an hour.

9. Emperor Penguins Know Their Chicks by Their Sounds

Emperor Penguin, Penguin, Antarctica, Ice Sheet, Bird
The cry of each chick is unique and recognized by the parent.


Each penguin is identified from others by its unique cry. Adults can recognize their young by their sounds and will only feed those that are their own. Emperor penguins have a distinctive two-voiced call that is useful for identifying specific individuals. The technique uses a peculiarity in avian anatomy: The syrinx, a vocal organ, breaks into a fork where the trachea joins the lungs in birds. This enables many bird species to simultaneously make two distinct vocalizations.

10. Emperor Penguins Go Through A Process Called “Molting” Every Year

Annually, emperor penguins molt, usually at the conclusion of the breeding season.

©Carlie Reum – Public Domain

The Emperor penguin undergoes an annual molt and annual feather loss, typically after the breeding season. Patches of lost feathers on a penguin going through this procedure might give the animal an unwell appearance. Emperor penguins begin their molting process early in the summertime when the pack ice covering the Antarctic Ocean is beginning to melt. The origin of these molting birds seen by passing ships is a mystery, as the locations are usually far away from other existing colonies.

The Featured Image

Emperor Penguins
Emperor Penguins at St. Louis Zoo, USA.
© BFS Man / CC BY 2.0 / flickr – License / Original

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About the Author

A substantial part of my life has been spent as a writer and artist, with great respect to observing nature with an analytical and metaphysical eye. Upon close investigation, the natural world exposes truths far beyond the obvious. For me, the source of all that we are is embodied in our planet; and the process of writing and creating art around this topic is an attempt to communicate its wonders.

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