The tallest and heaviest of all existing penguin species, Emperor penguins are rightly considered giants among Antarctic birds. Their name derives from their regal, upright stature, which is particularly noticeable when they are compared to other smaller penguin species.
But just how tall are emperor penguins? We’ll be looking into the average height of emperor penguins and investigating the benefits of their huge size, so keep reading to learn more.
Emperor penguins are by far the largest penguin species, in height, weight, and wingspan. The average adult Emperor penguin is between 112 and 115 cm (44 to 45 in) tall. Its size brings many benefits, including the ability to stay underwater for longer and reach greater depths when hunting for food.
Despite their great stature among penguins, Emperor penguins (Aptenodytes forsteri) do not make the tallest birds “top ten”, with long-legged flightless birds such as ostriches, emus, rheas, and cassowaries standing significantly taller.
However, many other larger bird species trail behind these regal Antarctic giants in height, including some of the largest owls, raptors and waders.
To learn more about how Emperor penguins measure up against other bird species, please read on!
Emperor Penguins are the largest penguin species in the world
Emperor penguins are at most waist-high to a tall human, measuring up to 115 cm, or 3 ft 9 inches. The average height for an adult male in the United States is 175 cm (or 5 ft 9 in), which is equal to around 60 cm or 2 ft taller than the top end of the Emperor penguin height range.
The Emperor penguin is by far the largest of the world’s 18 species of penguin. Next in size is the King penguin, which is around 20 cm (8 in) shorter, with a maximum height of 95 cm (37 in). Closely behind is the Gentoo penguin, which can reach a top height of 89 cm (35 in).
The smallest penguin species is the little penguin, also known as the little blue penguin or the fairy penguin, which stands between 30 and 33 cm (12 and 13 in) tall. Galápagos penguins are another smaller penguin species, measuring on average 48 to 53 cm (19 to 21 in) in height.
Curious Emperor Penguins looking through the viewfinder of a camera on a tripod
The outstretched wings of an adult Emperor penguin measure 76 cm (30 in) from tip to tip. Despite not using them for flight, Emperor penguins’ wings serve an essential purpose, propelling their large, but streamlined bodies through the ocean waters.
An Emperor penguin’s wingspan is comparable in size to that of a woodpigeon, slightly shorter than that of a barn owl and a few centimeters longer than the wingspan of a sparrowhawk.
Emperor Penguin diving underwater
The average weight of an adult Emperor penguin typically falls within the range of 22 to 45 kg (49 to 99 lb). Males usually weigh slightly more than females, although both sexes tend to lose a significant amount of weight during the laying and breeding seasons.
Males rely on their tremendous size to transfer their own body heat to the egg they incubate. They lose on average up to 12 kg (26 lb) during the two months that they are incubating their egg.
Guinness World Records lists the largest Emperor penguin as 130 cm (4 ft 3 in or 51 in). No specific data exists in specific reference to any individual bird that reached this size, however.
A pair of Emperor Penguins - one walking, whilst the other slides on their belly
Emperor penguins benefit significantly from their size and build, as these give them significant advantages over other penguin species when it comes to hunting and survival.
Thanks to their substantial body size, Emperor penguins can swim underwater more easily, dive to deeper depths beneath the ocean surface and remain in the icy Antarctic waters for long hours during hunting trips.
They can dive down as far as 550 m (1800 ft) and hold their breath for a record 32.2 minutes. These adaptations enable Emperor penguins to hunt different prey to other species in the same habitat, catching squid, krill, and fish that inhabit deeper marine waters.
A group of Emperor Penguins diving for food
While not the tallest birds in the world, Emperor penguins are significantly larger in height than many species that are widely thought of as ‘big birds’, including the great-horned owl, golden eagle, peafowl, gray heron and raven.
Emperor penguins are smaller in height than many of their flightless counterparts, including ostriches, cassowaries, emus and rheas. Other notably ‘tall’ birds, including the greater flamingo, Dalmatian pelican, Marabou stork, and mute swan, are all greater in standing height than the Emperor penguin.
At the opposite end of the penguin size scale are little penguins, which reach a maximum height of 41 to 45 cm (16 to 18 in.) and weighs roughly 1 kg (2.2 lbs).
Emperor Penguin walking with chicks
Even the tallest emperor penguins are significantly shorter than 6 feet in height, with the average adult Emperor penguin being 115 cm (45 in) tall, roughly waist high to a 6-ft human. No Emperor penguin has ever been recorded as being anywhere close to 6 ft in height.
Emperor penguins are by far the tallest penguins alive today, followed by King penguins, which reach a maximum height of 94 to 95 cm (37 in) – up to 20 cm (8 in) shorter than the average Emperor penguin.
A now-extinct species, the colossus penguin (Palaeeudyptes klekowskii), however, would have eclipsed the Emperor penguin had it still been alive today. Fossilized remains from 37 million years ago show these giants of ancient icy landscapes stood at a towering 2 m (79 in) in height, and weighed a colossal 115 kg (254 lb).
Kairuku waewaeroa is another notably tall penguin species that is now extinct. Formerly native to what is now New Zealand, this prehistoric penguin reached a maximum height of 138 cm (53 in) and became extinct 27 million years ago.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.