During the summer in the southern hemisphere – from about December to February – Emperor Penguins in Antarctica are at sea fattening up on squid, fish, and krill. As autumn approaches in March, the Emperors leave the water and begin a long trek to one of several breeding colonies. There, they mate, and each female produced a single egg. She transfers the egg to her mate, then leaves to spend winter in the open ocean.
During Antarctica’s winter – a frigid night four months long, male Emperor Penguins huddle by the hundreds in the snow. The male penguins guard the eggs and keep them warm. For 65 days, each bird incubates an egg. He cradles it on top of his feet, covering it with a pouch of skin. Their mid-winter vigil will end around August as the sun peeks over the horizon.
By the time the female returns, sleek and full of food, the male may have lost 45% of his body weight. Ravenously hungry, he leaves to feed at sea. The offspring grow rapidly in summer when food at sea is plentiful. By December, they’re be on their own. Five years from now, if they survive in their ocean home, the chicks will return to become parents themselves.