Penguin Species Series #16 - The Little Penguin
Little Penguin, Eudyptula minor
Coolest Fact: The little penguin is the smallest of the penguins.
Where It’s Found: Australia and New Zealand.
· IUCN Status: Least Concern.
· Population: Slight increases in some locations but declining overall in many places.
· Mating: Largely monogamous from year to year, especially if they are successful in raising chicks.
· Nesting: Most breeding is in burrows near the sea. Clutch is usually two eggs.
· Annual Cycle: Breeding begins when both parents are at the nest, September of October. They stay for five days, until first egg is laid. They then go to sea for 10 or 11 days. Eggs hatch after 35 days.
· Life span: About 6.5 years.
· Food: Varies with the colony. Mainly pilchards, anchovy, sprat and other small fish.
· Threats: Also varies with colony. Includes climate change, conflict with fisheries, and coastal developments.
Our First Sighting: December 13, 2014
Stewart Island, New Zealand
There is considerable confusion about this species’ name. It is often called the blue penguin, or fairy penguin, or little blue penguin. Little penguin is the new “official” name. Though the little penguin often nests near human settlements, it is also one of the shyest of penguins. It will leave early in the morning and return late in the day, often under cover of darkness. We saw our first little penguins on Stewart Island, below New Zealand’s South Island. We watched from a distance as penguins came into the main harbor and discreetly climbed into a crevasse or opening in a rock wall.
Five years later, we spent several days on New Zealand’s gorgeous Banks Peninsula. Flea Bay, to be exact. It is the home of the white-flippered penguin, considered by most as a sub-species of the little penguin. A few people, however, consider it a distinct species. Their flippers are distinctly outlined in white. It is found only on the Banks Peninsula and has been declining in number. An inspiring project to help white-flippered penguins on Flea Bay includes making 500 nest boxes. The smaller of the two chicks often struggles to get food. Younger chicks that aren’t getting food are brought in and hand-raised until they can successfully forage on their own. The penguins of Flea Bay are now emigrating to other locations on the Banks Peninsula, “seeding” new colonies. It was really fun to sit near the shore and watch penguins come in as it got dark in the evenings. Even more fun? Watching the staff put young penguins in the water for the first time. A quick splash, and the little penguins were gone—into the bay where they belonged.
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.”