Emperor penguins with small chicks
 - Aptenodytes forsteri

Emperor penguins

These penguins are either brooding eggs or small chicks, one can just be seen peeking from under it's parents brood flap in the bottom-middle of the picture. The other birds have noticeably bulging brood flaps that will be protecting eggs or chicks too. Eggs are laid in May and June, they are the smallest relative to body size of any bird, being around 0.4kg (1.1lb) just under 1.5% of the mass of an adult bird.

At this point, the males take charge of the egg. No nest is built and the egg is incubated on the feet of the parents, a special fold of abdominal skin covers the egg to keep it warm. The mother penguins then set off back to sea and do not return until July.

The male Emperors with their valuable eggs sit huddled together on the ice throughout the dark weeks and months of the Antarctic night. The average temperature is around -20C (-4°F) going down to -50°C (- 58°F) and with winds that gust up to 200km per hour (124mph). The males do not eat at all throughout this time, but just sit and wait and protect their egg, (later the chick) until their mate comes back to relieve them.

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This picture by Jerome Maison. © 2005 Bonne Pioche Productions / Alliance De Production Cinematographique.
From the Warner Brothers film The March of the Penguins used here by permission of Warner Brothers.