How Emperor Penguins “Flirt” Before Having Sex

Fans of “How I Met Your Mother” would know that Robin loves how emperor penguins would bow to each other before mating (Youtube, 2008). This is interesting because human bow means respect and thus I researched more.


The largest penguins are called Emperor penguins (National Geographic, n.d.), or Aptenodytes forsteri, would perform different displays of courtship behaviours before copulation. The acts include bowing, swinging their heads and singing (Miller, 2009). The male penguin who approached the female, would bow his head to her first (though there are instances where both penguins would bow at the same time). The male penguin will dip its head and point its beak at the other bird’s feet (Seaworld, 2013). The male bows of interest in that particular female penguin and wants to attract her (Jonas, 2005). Thus the bow is a courtship behaviour or in laymen terms, “flirting”. This is different from what I initially thought that bowing was a sign of respect.  Then the female would return the bow as well if she is interested. This is the first step of the courtship behaviour before others such as waddling (Jonas, 2005).

The video showed that after both parties have bowed once, they bowed again. Although there is little research why they bow two times, but bowing also serves as a way to recognise their partners, may strengthen their relationships and prevent fighting between each other (Seaworld, 2013). After bowing, both their beaks touched, which is similar to kissing.

What the video does not show is another possible courtship behaviour which is singing. After the penguins are acquainted, they may sing together which can last for few hours (Gaarder-juntti, 2008).

All in all, it is interesting to learn that penguins do “lovey-dovey” actions before mating.


Main highlight:

“Emperor Penguin Mating,” by Youtube Channel, 26 August 2008. URL: (accessed on 3 Apr 2013)



“Emperor Penguin” National Geographic. URL: (accessed on 3 Apr 2013)

“Emperor Penguins of the Antartic” by S. S. Miller. 2009. Publisher: Rosen Publishing Group. URL:     (Accessed on 3 Apr 2013)




“Little Penguins” by A. Jonas. 1 July 2005. Publisher: Gareth Stevens Publishing LLLP. URL: (Accessed on 3 Apr 2013)

“Penguins”. Seaworld. 2013. URL: (accessed on 3 Apr 2013)


“What lives in Antartica?” by O Gaarder-Juntti. 2008. ABDO Publishing Company. URL: (accessed on 3 Apr 2013)