Life Cycle of an Emperor Penguin: Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Diane Sieverson

Diane has taught all subjects at the elementary level, was the principal of a K-8 private school and has a master's degree in Measurement and Evaluation.

Emperor penguins are the largest of all penguins, but they start out as little eggs. Come learn about their life cycle, how it begins and how they go from a small egg to a big, flightless bird.

Understanding a Life Cycle

Imagine climbing into a tree and discovering a nest with eggs. You wonder what kind of bird will hatch from those shells and decide to leave them alone so that the mother and father birds can take care of them.

Although emperor penguins live in Antarctica and not your backyard, they have a life cycle, or stages they go through from an egg to a chick and finally an adult, just like the birds you see every day.

The Emperor's Eggs

When you think of the month of April, you probably think of the spring, but it's fall in Antarctica. And that's when the ice is thick and strong enough to hold all of the emperor penguins that come out of the water and onto the ice when it's time to mate and lay eggs.

The mother penguin only lays one egg and then leaves it with the father penguin, just like on a tag team. Around May or June, she goes on a long hunting trip in the ocean, just the way your mom might go to the grocery store, except that the mother penguin is gone for about two months!

The father penguin keeps the egg warm, or incubates (pronounced INK-you-baits) it, in the cold climate. But he doesn't build a nest like the birds in your tree. He balances the egg on the top of his feet and covers it with a special flap of skin that acts like a blanket. And because he can't go out and find food with an egg on his feet, he doesn't eat for about four months, using his fat to survive!

Baby Chicks

When the mother returns in July, the father gives the newly hatched chick back to her. Now, it's his turn to go out and find some yummy snacks while she babysits.

Emperor penguin chick
Emperor penguin chick

And although you probably prefer to chew your own food, the mother penguin spits up food stored in her stomach to feed her little chick, which weighs less than half a pound. That's less than a full soda can!

Emperor chick eating
Emperor chick eating2

She also keeps it warm in her skin flap since the chick is only covered with a thin, fluffy layer of soft feathers. Eventually, the chick grows a thicker layer of soft feathers and gets big enough to stand on the ice by itself.

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