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King Penguins

King Penguins

 ©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

Photos from “Every Bird a King,” a story in National Geographic’s September 2009 issue.

Above: As sure as moonrise over Possession Island, king penguins gather each year for “ecstatic display.” Puffing their chests, lifting their heads, and belting out calls, birds of both sexes advertise themselves. Before long, pairs form and join a crowd, and breeding season is on.

 ©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

In summer king penguins transform a tranquil valley called Jardin Japonais (“Japanese garden”) into a raucous breeding colony of 100,000 birds.

 ©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

A giant threat materializes in the shape of a male orca with a six-foot-tall dorsal fin, alarming penguins driven from shore by torrential rain. Orcas prefer elephant seals to penguins, but will eat any they can catch.

 ©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

A feeding party streams back to shore after several days at sea. Their orange markings, long, slender bills, and hefty, three-foot-long bodies distinguish them as king penguins. With bellies full of small fish, they will regurgitate a portion for waiting chicks.

 ©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

Ruling a remote, ice-free realm north of Antarctica, kings collect at American Bay on Possession Island for a month-long molt before pairing up to rear young.

©2009 Stefano Unterthiner / National Geographic

Once they reach a few months of age, chicks lose the vigilant daily care of parents and must bunch together for safety and warmth. Chick mortality runs as high as 75 percent, many dying of starvation in winter.

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