King Penguins are the second largest of all penguin species after the Emperor Penguin, growing up to 100cm in height, and weighing up to 38lbs. They are very similar in appearance to the Emperor Penguin, although their breeding grounds rarely overlap, and are certainly among the most beautiful of the breeds.
They have beautifully coloured dark orange cheeks, a white belly, and grey/black backs that are lighter than most other penguins. Youngsters look very similar, but with lighter plumage and colouring (see photo below). Adults can rear a maximum of 2 chicks every 3 years, and no other bird has a longer breeding cycle! They take 14-16 months to fledge a single chick, which may be left to fast for up to 5 months during winter (May- September).
Few places in the world offer the opportunity to see these magnificent creatures in the wild, and the colony near to Porvenir in Tierra del Fuego is particularly special in that it is the only breeding colony outside of the Sub-Antarctic Islands of South Georgia and the Falklands.
The Porvenir colony has a very interesting history: there are archaeological sites in the area containing remains of human settlements dating back 6,000 years, amongst which the bones of King Penguins have been found as both prey and tools, showing that they were present here as far back as prehistoric times! The colony is thought to have left the region not long after the arrival of humans who were hunting and sheep farming in the area, and only returned some ten years ago. They are now increasing in number year on year, and have now begun courting and breeding here. They now reach over 100 in number (Feb 2015), and the colony is expected to continue growing.
There are a few options for visiting this colony, the simplest and cheapest being a full 15 hour day trip (07:00 – 22:00). On this trip, as well as spending some quality time with the Penguins, and learning about the history and culture of the area, you’ll get to visit one of the most mystical islands of Patagonia, the ancestral land of the Selk-Nam, where you will experience the vastness of the southern skies, the wind of the pampas, and the history and culture of the region. You also go in search of a range of other species including the White Rumped Sandpiper, the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, and a variety of pelagic species crossing the historical Strait of Magellan, such as the Black-browed Albatros, and visit the towns of Porvenir and Cerro Sombrero, ending with the ultimate reward of some quality time quietly observing the stunning King Penguins as they go about their business!
Find out more about visiting the King Penguins in Tierra del Fuego.
Other options are available, for example a 2 day trip specially designed for serious photographers and those looking for more field time with the penguins, and longer trips that incorporate penguin spotting into longer wildlife itineraries for example, Whale Watching and Puma Tracking!
Read more about other ways to see Penguins in Patagonia.
Photos Courtesy of Big Sur.