Yellow-eyed Penguin, Megadyptes antipodes
Coolest Fact: Yellow-eyed penguins have an eerie, almost ghostly, look to them. They are the only penguin with yellow eyes, the only penguin with a yellow band or “halo,” and the only penguin species with bi-colored head feathers. The feathers are yellow with black shafts.
Where It’s Found: Auckland and Campbell Islands, Stewart and South Island, New Zealand.
· IUCN Status: Endangered.
· Population: Estimated at 1,700 pairs. The species is declining rapidly, especially on South Island where it is down 60% in last 20 years.
· Mating: 75% monogamous from year-to-year.
· Nesting: Well-concealed nest sites in dense vegetation, with clutch of two eggs.
· Annual Cycle: Adults are sedentary and generally forage with 50 kilometers of colony.
· Life span: 20 years.
· Food: Sprat and other small fish 90% of diet.
· Threats: Introduced species like ferrets, human disturbance, and outbreak of diseases (avian malaria, for example).
Our First Sighting: December 7, 2014
Enderby Island, New Zealand
Yellow-eyed penguins are strikingly unique looking penguins. They are also very skittish and shy. My wife Susan and I saw them first on Enderby Island, one of the Auckland Islands in the sub-Antarctic islands south of New Zealand. Five years later, we saw yellow-eyed penguins on the Otago Peninsula on the South Island. These two populations are now quite separate, which becomes understandable by their fascinating archeological story.
In 2008, researchers at the University of Otago discovered fossil bones that were 500 years old. It was a distinct species of penguin, closely related to the yellow-eyed penguin. Both were in the genus Megadyptes. The fossil represented a new species, called Megadyptes waitaha, or waitaha penguin. It is now extinct. Researchers speculate that it may have gone extinct under hunting pressure, between 1300 and 1500 C.E., since their bones are often found in archeological sites. After its extinction, the yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) from the sub-Antarctic islands colonized the vacated habitat on the South Island. The yellow-eyed penguin is among the rarest of penguins and it is the only remaining species of Megadyptes penguins.
This new penguin series includes stories, information, and photos not yet published. Read about our quest to see all 18 of the world’s penguin species in my book “Every Penguin in the World.”