International Expeditions’ Patagonia tour is expanding in 2013 and will allow guests an rare opportunity to visit Tierra del Fuego’s Porvenir, home to world’s most accessible colony of king penguins. King penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) are the second largest member of the family and probably the most beautiful and charismatic species of the penguin world.

This species was once considered a vagrant or accidental visitor to the coasts of Patagonia, as every year, a handful of King penguins who appear but no breeding activity was ever documented in the region.

Over the last three years, a small number of individuals — typically between 40 and 70 King penguins — have established a breeding colony on the shores of the huge embayment of Useless Bay, in Chilean Patagonia. Their presence had been recorded throughout the year, but peak numbers seem to be reached during the southern spring and summer months (September through March). Over the past two summers, their has been significant courtship behavior, including pairing, vocalizations and mating, but all further breeding attempts failed mostly due to inquisitive visiting tourists. In 2012 however, the area was completely fenced by property owners, resulting in less human disturbance, and consequently allowing the penguins to try to breed once again.

The first King penguin eggs were laid in November and December, and the first chicks were seen during January 2012. On one of my recent visits in February, a small group of guests and I had the privilege of seeing four chicks and another four adult penguins carrying eggs underneath their brood patch. We also saw protective parents guarding the chicks against the curiosity of other adults. This is great news for the first documented King Penguin colony in South America. Other nearby colonies are found at the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and the world’s largest is located on remote South Georgia Island.

By IE Patagonia Expedition Leader Claudio Vidal