Emperor Penguin Aptenodytes forsteri


Taxonomic source(s)
Christidis, L. and Boles, W.E. 2008. Systematics and Taxonomy of Australian Birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
del Hoyo, J., Collar, N.J., Christie, D.A., Elliott, A. and Fishpool, L.D.C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Non-passerines. Lynx Edicions BirdLife International, Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK.
SACC. 2005 and updates. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #http://www.museum.lsu.edu/~Remsen/SACCBaseline.htm#.
Turbott, E.G. 1990. Checklist of the Birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

IUCN Red list criteria met and history
Red List criteria met
Critically Endangered Endangered Vulnerable
- - -

Red List history
Year Category Criteria
2020 Near Threatened A3c
2018 Near Threatened A3c
2016 Near Threatened A3c
2012 Near Threatened A3c
2009 Least Concern
2008 Least Concern
2004 Least Concern
2000 Lower Risk/Least Concern
1994 Lower Risk/Least Concern
1988 Lower Risk/Least Concern
Species attributes

Migratory status full migrant Forest dependency Does not normally occur in forest
Land mass type Average mass -
Extent of occurrence (EOO)

Estimate Data quality
Extent of Occurrence breeding/resident (km2) 11,600,000 medium
Extent of Occurrence non-breeding (km2) 27,100,000 medium
Number of locations -
Fragmentation -
Population and trend
Estimate Data quality Derivation Year of estimate
No. of mature individuals unknown medium estimated 2009
Population trend Decreasing suspected -
Decline (3 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (5 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (10 years/1 generation past) - - -
Decline (10 years/3 generation future) 20-29 - - -
Decline (10 years/3 generation past and future) - - -
Number of subpopulations - - -
Largest subpopulations - - -
Generation length (yrs) 22.4 - - -

Population justification:

A survey of satellite images from 2009, updated in 2019 considered 54 colonies containing approximately 256,500 breeding pairs to be a plausible breeding population estimate (Trathan et al. 2019). The numbers of juveniles, sub-adults and non-breeders are unknown, and the small colonies found since 2014 are not included. 

Trend justification: The population trend of the species is predicted to be strongly linked to the condition of ice cover around Antarctica in future. The current population trend is considered stable: from a survey based on satellite images the total population was estimated at 238,000 breeding pairs (Fretwell et al. 2012) while the updated figure for 2019 was 256,500 breeding pairs (Trathan et al. 2019). 
However, the future trend is predicted to show an increasingly rapid rate of decline, once changes to the availability of suitable land-fast sea-ice begin to affect breeding success. 

In recent decades, there is high confidence that the total Antarctic sea ice cover exhibits no significant trend over the satellite observation era (1979 to 2018; IPCC 2019). The significant positive trend in mean ice cover between 1979 and 2015 has not persisted, following three consecutive years of below-average cover (2016 to 2018; IPCC 2019). The overall Antarctic trend is composed of near-compensating regional changes, with rapid ice loss in the Amundsen and Bellingshausen seas counteracted by rapid ice gain in the Weddell and Ross seas; most of these regional trends are strongly seasonal in character (IPCC 2019).
After the middle of this century, if the current factors leading to Southern Ocean change continue, the annual decrease in net Antarctic sea ice is predicted to reach 48%. A number of Emperor Penguin colonies are then likely to experience complete loss of breeding habitat during the critical egg-laying season (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). Receding sea ice, along with consequent changes in fisheries, are also expected to affect fish and krill stocks (Rintoul et al. 2018), thus threatening the food supply of predators such as Emperor Penguins. 

Various analyses and a global demographic assessment of the potential impacts of projected climate change on Emperor Penguins have been carried out (Ainley et al. 2010 and Jenouvrier et al. 2014; 2017, 2020). Under a business-as-usual scenario (RCP 8.5), with unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions throughout the 21st century, Jenouvrier et al. (2019) show that by 2100 all colonies are projected to decrease in size, with 43 of the 54 (80%) colonies projected to decrease by more than 90%, and thus be quasi-extinct. Under this scenario, annual mean Antarctic sea ice extent decreases by 48%, and the breeding habitat of the most endangered colonies, in the north of the range, will probably be lost completely during the critical egg-laying season. Globally, the total abundance of the Emperor Penguins is projected to decrease by 86%, relative to its current size if colonies cannot find more suitable breeding habitat. Simultaneously, the growth rate of the global population is projected to decrease dramatically, resulting in an annual loss of 4.06% per year by the end of this century (a half-life of 17 years). Furthermore, even under a dispersal scenario that leads to the most optimistic population outcome (short distance dispersal, low emigration rate, and informed search), the median of the global population is projected by this model to decrease by 81% (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). Larger decreases are expected under other dispersal scenarios (up to 99% relative to its current size, with long distance dispersal and high emigration rate regardless of dispersal behaviour). By including all uncertainties, the 90% confidence envelope of the global population projections by 2100, range from a decrease of 99.2% to 67% relative to the 2009 initial size. In contrast, if the global temperature rise is kept to 2.0°C, the annual mean sea ice loss is 13% by 2100 (Jenouvrier et al. 2020). As such, only 17 colonies (31%) are likely to be quasi-extinct by 2100, but the global population will decrease by at least 44%.

There are substantial uncertainties over future changes in the patterns of weather variables and how these are likely to impact the species, as well as whether there will be a lag in the decline of mature individuals as recruitment falls, or whether this decline will be proportional to the loss of colonies as climatic changes result in the increased mortality of mature individuals, as with the estimates above. The degree to which the predicted declines will be realised is down to a very large number of variables, but there is a strong indication that if declines are detected in the Emperor Penguin population, they will then be suspected to proceed at an increasingly rapid rate necessitating listing the species at a higher threat category. In the absence of a decline, and noting that the major disruption to ice availability is predicted to begin after the middle of the century, the future rate of population reduction is suspected to be between 20-29% over three generations.

Country/territory distribution
Country/Territory Occurrence status Presence Resident Breeding Non-breeding Passage
Antarctica N Extant Yes Yes
Argentina V Extant
Chile V Extant
Falkland Islands (Malvinas) V Extant
French Southern Territories V Extant
Heard Island and McDonald Islands (to Australia) V Extant
New Zealand V Extant
South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands V Extant

Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA)
Country/Territory IBA Name
Antarctica Snow Hill Island
Antarctica Amanda Bay
Antarctica Atka Iceport
Antarctica Auster Rookery
Antarctica Cape Darnley
Antarctica Cape Roget
Antarctica Cape Washington
Antarctica Coulman Island, Ross Sea
Antarctica Dawson-Lambton Glacier
Antarctica Drescher Inlet (Dreschereisfrontkerbe)
Antarctica Franklin Island, Ross Sea
Antarctica Gaussberg, Princess Elizabeth Land
Antarctica Berkner Island northwest (Gould Bay)
Antarctica Brunt Ice Shelf (Halley Bay)
Antarctica Haswell Island
Antarctica Kloa Point
Antarctica Lazarev Island Ice Shelf, Queen Maud Land
Antarctica Peterson Bank, Wilkes Land
Antarctica Pingvin Island, Princess Elizabeth Land
Antarctica Pointe Géologie
Antarctica Riiser-Larsen Peninsula
Antarctica Riiser-Larsen Ice Shelf
Antarctica Shackleton Ice Shelf
Antarctica Stancomb-Wills Glacier
Antarctica Taylor Rookery
Antarctica Smith Peninsula
Antarctica Luitpold Coast
Antarctica Muskegbukta
Antarctica Princess Ragnhild Coast
Antarctica West Ice Shelf
Antarctica Dibble Glacier
Antarctica Mertz Glacier
Antarctica Cape Wadworth, Coulman Island
Antarctica Bernacchi Head, Franklin Island
Antarctica Cape Colbeck
Antarctica Thurston Glacier
Antarctica Hummer Point, Bear Peninsula
Antarctica Brownson Islands
Antarctica Sikorski Glacier, Noville Peninsula
Antarctica Scorseby Head, Smyley Island

Habitats & altitude
Habitat (level 1) Habitat (level 2) Importance Occurrence
Marine Intertidal Rocky Shoreline suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Macroalgal/Kelp suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Macroalgal/Kelp suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Pelagic suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Pelagic suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Loose Rock/pebble/gravel suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Loose Rock/pebble/gravel suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Rock and Rocky Reefs suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Rock and Rocky Reefs suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Sandy suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Sandy suitable breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Sandy-Mud suitable non-breeding
Marine Neritic Subtidal Sandy-Mud suitable breeding
Marine Oceanic Epipelagic (0-200m) major non-breeding
Marine Oceanic Epipelagic (0-200m) major breeding
Marine Oceanic Mesopelagic (200-1000m) major non-breeding
Marine Oceanic Mesopelagic (200-1000m) major breeding
Other major breeding
Altitude 0 - 500 m Occasional altitudinal limits  

Threats & impact
Threat (level 1) Threat (level 2) Impact and Stresses
Climate change & severe weather Habitat shifting & alteration Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Majority (50-90%) Rapid Declines Medium Impact: 7
Indirect ecosystem effects, Ecosystem degradation, Ecosystem conversion, Reduced reproductive success
Human intrusions & disturbance Work & other activities Timing Scope Severity Impact
Ongoing Minority (<50%) Negligible declines Low Impact: 4
Species disturbance, Reduced reproductive success

Purpose Primary form used Life stage used Source Scale Level Timing
Pets/display animals, horticulture - - International Non-trivial Recent

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Species factsheet: Aptenodytes forsteri. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2021) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 25/02/2021.