King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: February 9, 2022
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King penguins and emperor penguins are two of the most famous species of this bird. They are also two very similar-looking penguins, sharing much in the way of coloration, patterns, and size. So, when people consider the differences between a king penguin vs emperor penguin, we need to do more than a glance at the two animals.

We’ve come up with five important differences between these flightless birds that will help you understand the differences between the creatures. By the time you’re reading this, you’ll understand enough about these creatures to tell them apart at the zoo!

Comparing King Penguin and Emperor Penguin

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin
Emperor and king penguins are the two largest species on Earth today.
King PenguinEmperor Penguin
Lifespan15-20 years15-20 years
SizeWeight: 24-35lbs
Height:  24-35in
Weight: 49-100lbs
Height: 39-47in
Beak– Long, narrow beak that is a bit longer than the emperor penguin’s
– Intense orange stripe on the beak
– Long, narrow beak that is more curved than the king penguin’s, especially along the bottom of the beak.
Range– Lived on sub-Antarctic islands rather than the continent itself.-Lives in Antarctica and outlying areas
Coloration-Has bright orange spots extending from its ears down to its chest.– Lighter, less intense orange patches by their eats that quickly fade to yellow as they reach the chest
Breeding Season– Lasts from October-December and results in one egg– Lasts from March until April, results in one egg.

The 5 Key Differences Between King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin

The greatest differences between king penguins and emperor penguins are their beaks, colors, and size. Emperor penguins are larger, taller, and heavier than king penguins. The easiest way to remember this fact is that an emperor typically holds sway over a larger area than a king, so the birds reflect that in their sizes.

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The color scheme of king penguins and emperor penguins is also unique. King penguins have very intense orange patterns by their ears that extend down to their chest and become yellow. Moreover, they have a large, distinct orange stripe on their beaks; emperor penguins have a thinner, less colorful orange or pink stripe.

However, emperor penguins do have a less intense shade of orange by their ears, but it fades to yellow as it approaches their chest.  Emperor penguins have a more curved beak than a king penguin, especially on the bottom portion of the beak as it tapers to the end.

These differences are easy ways to tell the difference between a king penguin and an emperor penguin. However, we’re going to show you other ways to identify these creatures both by sight and less tangible information.

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: Size

Types of Big Birds
Emperor penguins can weigh up to 100lbs

©robert mcgillivray/

Emperor penguins are taller and heavier than king penguins. Although both penguins have names that denote royalty, there can only be one penguin dubbed the largest.

As its name suggests, the emperor penguin is a fair amount larger than the king penguin. Emperor penguins stand 47 inches tall and weigh 100lbs at their greatest. King penguins will reach weights of about 35lbs and grow up to 35 inches in height. They’re both larger birds than most people imagine in most cases.

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: Beaks

Animal Facts: Penguins
Emperor penguins have beaks with a consistent curve


Emperor penguins’ beaks are more curved than the king penguins’ beaks. Both creatures have a long, narrow beak that is perfect for capturing and eating their prey, mostly fish. Although the king penguin’s beak has a curve to it, that curve tapers away on the bottom of the beak until it is nearly flat.

An emperor penguin’s beak is roughly the same size as the king penguin’s beak, but theirs curves down the entire length, including on the bottom portion. Also, king penguins have a bright orange stripe on their beaks while the emperor penguin can have a pink or light orange stripe on their beak. The stripe on the emperor penguin’s beak is much thinner and lighter in most cases.  

This is a very simple way of telling the two creatures apart.  

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: Range

Although you probably won’t go on an expedition that takes you close to any of these animals, it’s important to know their breeding grounds. King penguins primarily live on sub-Antarctic islands, like those found off the southern coast of New Zealand. That is where they live and breed.

Emperor penguins live and breed on the continent of Antarctica. During the breeding season, they will move out to the icy watery area along the exterior of Antarctica. However, they can live slightly inland on the continent, too. They do not often share the same range as one another.  

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: Coloration

The king penguin has more intense colors on its body than the emperor penguin. The most noticeable area where we can see the difference between these birds is on their faces. King penguins have very bright and intense orange patterns over their ears. These patterns are spoon-shaped, and they stretch down into the chest area where they remain orange.

Emperor penguins have a less intense orange color on their heads that quickly fades to yellow on their upper chest before disappearing entirely in their white feathers.

King Penguin vs Emperor Penguin: Breeding Seasons

Baby king penguins
Baby king penguins hatch after incubating for two months.


The breeding season of the emperor penguin starts in March and lasts until April, and the breeding season of the king penguin lasts from October until December. Both of these birds only produce a single egg during their reproduction period.

As we’ve said before, these birds reproduce in different areas of the world. King penguins reproduce on sub-Antarctic islands and emperor penguins reproduce on the outlying areas of Antarctica itself.

King penguins and emperor penguins look very similar when you glance at them. However, when you stop and examine these creatures, it becomes apparent that they have major differences. Their colors, beaks, and size are all simple ways to identify these creatures. So, if you are at a zoo and happen across these animals, you can tell them apart with ease and impress people around you with your knowledge.  

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About the Author

I've been a freelance writer since 2013, and I've written in a variety of niches such as managed service providers, animals, and retail distribution. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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