I've been told that the only place Emperor penguins live is Antarctica. They live in colonies which can be anywhere from 500-20,000 birds. Unlike some other birds, including other penguin species, they only lay one egg at a time, and on ice rather than land.

Thousands of people travel to Antarctica each year hoping to see the Emperors. Excursions take place in the form of cruises, airplanes, and helicopters, combined with long walks and camping. Those who've gone report that it's an absolutely magnificent and unforgettable experience.

Since each pair only has one egg per breeding season, if I were fortunate enough to witness these penguins during the incubation period, would I see males, females, or a combination of both?

Also, in order to plan the trip, how long of a window would I have, meaning what's the length of the incubation period?

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    I think it is off-topic, and the documentation is fairly easy to find on that matter.
    – njzk2
    Sep 27, 2016 at 1:33
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    Sue - check out the biology stack exchange
    – plast1k
    Sep 27, 2016 at 1:49
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    Hi @njzk2. I'm not trying to argue, but would you be willing to tell me what makes this off-topic? I feel like it fits the scope; meets the criteria of many of our other bird-watching or animal related questions; and also the descriptions of the tags I've used. However, I'm certainly open to hearing what you think might make it more on-topic. Thanks! Sep 27, 2016 at 3:46
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    I don't think this is necessarily off topic, but I do think you are more likely to get a good answer on the Biology site. Sep 27, 2016 at 15:28

2 Answers 2


There is a fantastic movie about the breeding/brooding/hatching cycle of the emperor penguin, which came out in 2005. The March of the Penguins.

For a clip, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L7tWNwhSocE.

According to the March of the Penguins reference cited above, the males incubate the eggs and the females, who have gone to the sea to feed, feed the chicks when they (the females) return.

The penguins practice serial monogamy within each breeding season. The female lays a single egg, and the co-operation of the parents is needed if the chick is to survive. After the female lays the egg, she transfers it to the feet of the waiting male with minimal exposure to the elements, as the intense cold could kill the developing embryo. The male tends to the egg when the female returns to the sea, now even farther away, both in order to feed herself and to obtain extra food for feeding her chick when she returns. She has not eaten in two months and by the time she leaves the hatching area, she will have lost a third of her body weight.

For an additional two months, the males huddle together for warmth, and incubate their eggs. They endure temperatures approaching −62 °C (−80 °F), and their only source of water is snow that falls on the breeding ground. When the chicks hatch, the males have only a small meal to feed them, and if the female does not return, they must abandon their chick and return to the sea to feed themselves. By the time they return, they have lost half their weight and have not eaten for four months. The chicks are also at risk from predatory birds such as northern giant petrels.[6]

Addendum requested by OP:

Except for station personnel, most people wanting to see Emperor penguins or other Antarctica wildlife fly to the tip of South America or to New Zealand and take a ship from there. SA is the departure point for the Antarctic Peninsula and the Weddell Sea. NZ is the departure point for the Ross Sea area.

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    I find it fabulous that the "northern" giant petrels are feared predators in the very southern portion of the world. :)
    – Erik
    Sep 29, 2016 at 15:06

The male spends the dark winter incubating the egg in his brood pouch, balancing it on the tops of his feet, for 64 consecutive days until hatching.

According to Wikipedia.

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