All About Penguins

All About Penguins


Photo CreditA family of yellow-eyed penguin

On the 28 November I post about Flightless Birds in New Zealand, I said: I will have another article about Penguins”. Here it is.

Yellow-eyed Penguin

The yellow-eyed penguin is a penguin native to New Zealand.

Colonies on the Otago Peninsula are a popular tourist venue, where visitors may closely observe penguins from hides, trenches or tunnels.

They are a mid-sized penguin, measuring 62-79 cm (24-31 in) long. Weights vary through the year being greatest, 5.5 to 8 kg (12-18 lbs), just before molting and least, 3 to 6 kg (6.6 -13.2 lbs), after molting.

The males are larger than the females. They have a pale yellow head and paler yellow iris with black feather shafts. The chin and throat are brownish-black. There is a band of bright yellow running from its eyes around the back of the head.

The juvenile has a greyer head with no band and their eyes have a grey iris.

The yellow-eyed Penguin may be long-lived, with some individuals reaching 20 years of age. Males generally live longer than females, leading to a sex ratio of 2:1 around the age of 10-12 years.

Yellow-eyed Penguin

Photo Credit – On the shore of Enderby Island, Auckland Islands

These penguins usually nest in forest or scrub, among Native Flax (Phormium Tenax) and lupin (Lupinus arboreus), on slopes or gullies, or the shore itself, facing the sea. These areas are generally sited in small bays or on headland areas of larger bays. It is found in New Zealand, on the southeast coast of South Island, Foveaux Strait, and Stewart Island, Auckland, and Campbell Islands.It expanded its range from the subantarctic islands to the main islands of New Zealand after the extinction of the Waitaha Penguin several hundred years ago.

Around 90% of the yellow-eyed penguin’s diet is made up of fish.

The consensus view of New Zealand penguin workers is that it is preferable to use habitat rather than colony to refer to areas where yellow-eyed penguins nest. Nest sites are selected in August and normally two eggs are laid in September. The incubation duties (lasting 39–51 days) are shared by both parents who may spend several days on the nest at a time. For the first six weeks after hatching, the chicks are guarded during the day by one parent while the other is at sea feeding. The foraging adult returns at least daily to feed the chicks and relieve the partner.

After the chicks are six weeks of age, both parents go to sea to supply food to their rapidly growing offspring. Chicks usually fledge in mid-February and are totally independent of then from then on.

Chick fledge weights are generally between 5 and 6 kg.

First breeding occurs at three to four years of age and long-term partnerships are formed.


This species of penguin is endangered, with an estimated population of 4000. It is considered one of the world’s rarest penguin species. The main threats include habitat degradation and introduced predators. It may be the most ancient of all living penguins.

In August 2010, the yellow-eyed penguin was granted protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The Endangered Yellow Eyed Penguins of New Zealand

Little Blue Penguin

Little Blue Penguin

Photo Credit  – Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor), Bruny Island, Tasmania, Australia

The Little Penguin is the smallest species of penguin. The penguin, which usually grows to an average of 33 cm (13 in) in height and 43 cm (17 in) in length are found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand, with possible records from Chile. Apart from Little Penguins, they have several common names.

In Australia, they are also referred to as Fairy Penguins because of their tiny size.

In New Zealand, they are also called Little Blue Penguins, or just Blue Penguins, owing to their slate-blue plumage. Rough estimates (as new colonies continue to be discovered) of the world population are around 350,000 – 600,000 animals.

Little penguins preen their feathers to keep them waterproof. They do this by rubbing a tiny drop of oil onto every feather from a special gland above the tail.


Photo Credit  Little penguin (Eudyptula minor) family exiting burrow at night, Bruny Island

Little penguins mature at different ages. The female matures at 2 years old. The male, however, matures at 3 years old. Little penguins only remain faithful to their partner in breeding seasons and whilst hatching eggs. At other times of the year, they do tend to swap burrows. 

One or two white or lightly mottled brown eggs are laid with a rarer second (or even third) clutches following. Incubation takes up to 36 days. Chicks are brooded for 18–38 days and fledge after 7–8 weeks.

During the breeding and chick rearing seasons, little penguins will leave their nest at sunrise, forage for food throughout the day and return to their nests just after dusk. 

The species is not considered endangered, except for the White-Flippered subspecies found only on Banks Peninsula and nearby Motunau Island in New Zealand. Since the 1960s, the mainland population has declined by 60-70%; though there has been a small increase on Motunau Island.

But overall Little Penguin populations have been decreasing as well, with some colonies having been wiped out and other populations continuing to be at risk. The greatest threat to Little Penguin populations has been predation (including nest predation) from cats, dogs, foxes, large reptiles, and possibly ferrets and stoats.

Emperor Penguin

Emperor Penguin

Photo Credit – Adults and a juvenile on Snow Hill Island, Antarctica.

New Zealand Emperor Penguin (Lost at Sea)

Writing about “Happy Feet” a Penguin that made his way to Peka Peka Beach Kapiti, near Wellington New Zealand on the 20 June 2011.

Happy Feet became the focus of the world after it turned up on a beach some 2,500 miles from its home, only the second Emperor penguin known to have shown up in New Zealand.

It underwent endoscopic surgery in June to remove 6.6 pounds of sand from its stomach, survived operations at Wellington Zoo, and subsequently recuperated at the zoo, where a “penguin cam” allowed fans to observe its every move over the Internet.

Penguins normally eat snow to stay hydrated, but veterinarians believe Happy Feet, named after the main character in a popular animated film, became confused and ate sand instead.

Through a public campaign, the zoo has raised the $10,000 needed to cover the costs of housing Happy Feet. It also has raised about $8,000 toward the costs of returning him to the sub-Antarctic ocean south of New Zealand. That trip could cost up to $30,000.

4 September 2011 – News, Happy Feet, the emperor penguin who captured the hearts of New Zealanders and others around the world, has been released back into the Southern Ocean, off NIWA’s research vessel Tangaroa.

Happy Feet was released at 10:30 am on 4 September, 49 miles north of Campbell Island, at a depth of 285 meters.

12 September 2011 – Where in the ocean is Happy Feet?

We may never know what happened to emperor penguin Happy Feet as his satellite transmitter has stopped transmitting. Sirtrack, who provided the transmitter, have confirmed that a signal has not been received since 9 September, NZ time. This lack of signal means that the transmitter has not broken the surface of the water since that time.

The transmitter had been working as expected up until its last transmission, so there are two possibilities: either the transmitter has fallen off or a predator has prevented Happy Feet from surfacing.

Emperor penguins are the largest penguin species and can weigh up to 66 pounds. The adults may grow up to a height of 1.1 meters and weight more than 35 kgs.

As a matter of interest – The last sighting of an Emperor penguin in New Zealand took place in 1967.

Happy Feet – the lost Emperor Penguin


    • Cute little birds, hopefully, the Yellow-eyed Penguin does not become extinct, it can happen so easy when there is no other part of the world to find them.
      Nice to know you have been to NZ, how long ago was that?


  1. wow – I only had time to read the opening part, but will bookmark and come back later- and the photos are so good

    oh and the little penguin (fairy penguin) – how interesting to mature at different ages (guess I read about halfway…. to get to those)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this! Interesting that the Penguins in NZ need not be in the tundra or eskimo cold weather. Loved learning about the Little Blue and Yellow Eyed Penguin. Fascinating about Happy Feet too! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Eva for commenting. I remember that year 2011 very well, everyone was happy when we heard that he had survived the sand eating episode and even happier when he was released with the satellite transmitter, but o-so disappointed when it had stopped transmitting, let’s hope he just lost the transmitter and he is still alive. Happy thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Miriam for replying. In January there is an Awareness for Dolphins day.
      I must try and remember to write another post on Penguins, they are amazing birds.
      Happy days my friend, Christmas is approaching very fast.


  3. Thanks for this Elsie. They’re such incredible animals. You realise how much when you see them climb those Oamaru cliffs. How they do it without any appreciable legs is a mystery but they do and fast too.

    Liked by 1 person

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