Number of families 1
Medium to large flightless seabirds with streamlined bodies adapted for swimming and diving underwater
17.7–51.2 in (45–130 cm); 1.8–88 lb (842 g–40 kg)
Number of genera, species
6 genera; 17 species
Marine coastal areas of the southern hemisphere; one species found at the equator
Endangered: 3 species; Vulnerable: 7 species; Lower Risk: 2 species
Cool waters of the southern hemisphere, including coastal Antarctica, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and South America and the Falkland Islands; one species occurs at the equator, on the Galápagos Islands
Evolution and systematics
Ninteenth-century French explorer Dumont d'Urville described penguins as "fish-birds" when he first spotted them in Antarctic waters. Like fish, penguins have streamlined, torpedo-shaped bodies and swim easily underwater; however, they are indisputably birds, members of the order Sphenisciformes, which consists of a single family, the Spheniscidae. Their closest living relatives are thought to be petrels and albatrosses (Procellariidae) and loons and grebes (Gaviidae).
Taxonomists concur that penguins probably evolved during the Cretaceous period (140–65 million years ago) from an ancestor that could fly but also swam underwater to catch food. The ancestor might have resembled an auk (Alcidae) or a diving-petrel (Procellariidae).
More than 40 fossil penguin species have been described; a distinctive fused foot bone, the tarsometatarsus, is diagnostic. In a report published in 1990, Ewan Fordyce and C. M.
Jones suggested that mass extinctions of marine reptiles during the late Cretaceous left open ecological niches that penguins evolved to fill. In the period from 40 to 10 million years ago, penguins flourished; species diversity was higher than it is in the twenty-first century, and the penguin fauna included many species even bigger than the largest living species, the emperor penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri). By the Miocene period (about 15 million years ago) most of the large species were extinct, perhaps because seals and small whales had evolved and were outcompeting penguins for food.
As of 2001, scientists recognize 17 species of penguins in 6 genera. The genus Aptenodytes includes the two largest penguins, emperor penguins and three-foot-tall king penguins (A. patavonicus). The genus Pygoscelis includes Adelie (P. adeliae), chinstrap (P. antarctica), and gentoo (P. papua) penguins. Adelie penguins, with their black-and-white plumage that suggests a formal tuxedo, are what most people think of when they hear the word penguin. The genus Eudyptes consists of
macaroni (E. chrysolophus), rockhopper (E. chrysocome), Snares (E. robustus), erect-crested (E. sclateri), royal (E. schlegeli), and Fiordland (E. pachyrhynchus) penguins; these are also known as crested penguins because of the wispy yellow feathers that sprout above their eyes. African (Spheniscus demersus), Humboldt (S. humboldti), Magellanic (S. magellanicus), and Galapagos (S. mendiculus) penguins make up the genus Spheniscus, also referred to as black-footed penguins. Members of this group have curving white stripes on either side of their black heads and a black stripe that forms a horseshoe shape on their white chests. Spheniscus penguins are also nicknamed jackass penguins because of their braying calls. The final two penguin genera each consist of a single species: Eudyptula minor, little penguins (as its name suggests, the smallest of the penguins), and Megadyptes antipodes, yellow-eyed penguins.
With their large heads, elongate bodies, and upright stance, penguins look somewhat human as they waddle around on land. The most common plumage, a black back and white chest, evokes a comparison with tuxedoed waiters. All penguins share a set of anatomical features that make them uniquely adapted for life in a marine environment. They are able to dive and maneuver with agility underwater. They have solid, heavy bones; wings that are modified into stiff, flat flippers; webbed feet set well back on the body; and short, stiff feathers that repel water and provide excellent insulation.
Species vary in size. Little penguins generally weigh less than 3 lb (1100 g) and stand less than 18 in (45 cm) tall; the emperor penguin can be nearly four ft (115 cm) tall, and a male at the beginning of the breeding season may weigh as much as 88 lb (40 kg). The weight of each penguin may vary dramatically over the course of the breeding season; male emperor penguins go without eating for as long as 115 days during courtship and egg incubation and may lose 41% of their initial body weight during this period. Male penguins are slightly larger than females, especially with regard to the length of their flippers and the size of the bill, but except among the eudyptid penguins (in particular the macaroni) this difference can be hard to detect on casual observation.
All penguins have black, blue-gray, or gray feathers on the back and white feathers on the chest and belly. Many species have distinct orange or yellow plumes sprouting from the head or patches of bright yellow or orange on the face. Males and females look similar; chicks are covered with a layer of fluffy down.
Even though penguins are flightless, they have a keeled breastbone like that of flying birds (the keel anchors the pectoral muscles usually used for flight). Penguin bones differ from those of most birds in being solid and heavy instead of light and filled with air spaces; heavy bones are an adaptation for diving underwater. Penguin wings have been modified into flippers for "flying" underwater; the joints at elbow and wrist are almost fused so that the flippers do not fold up the way wings do. Penguin legs are short and stout with webbed feet; underwater, the feet trail behind, pressed against the stiff tail where they serve as a rudder.
In most birds, feathers grow only from certain sections of the skin called feather tracts, while large areas of skin between the tracts are bare. Penguins, on the other hand, have feathers over almost the entire body surface; the exception is the bare brood patch on the belly. Tropical penguins have the largest areas of bare skin to facilitate cooling. The tips of feathers overlap like scales to form a waterproof outer covering, while fluffy down at the base of each feather traps a layer of air that holds in body heat. Most species experience a complete molt annually; they stay on land and fast during the molting period of 13–34 days.
A layer of blubber provides additional insulation, and a heat-exchange system in blood vessels of the flippers and legs helps maintain body temperature while swimming in cold water. One other adaptation to life in the water is the ability to reduce blood flow to the muscles while submerged. How penguins such as emperors dive repeatedly to great depths without developing decompression sickness and nitrogen narcosis is not known.
Penguins live almost exclusively in the southern half of the world. A single species, the Galapagos penguin, occurs just north of the equator. Popularly thought to be birds of the Antarctic, penguins are actually widely distributed, and more than half of the 17 species are never found in Antarctica. Most species live between 45 and 60° south. Seven penguin species breed on the mainland and islands of southern New Zealand; other species breed along the subtropical coasts of South America and South Africa. Only four species breed in Antarctica—the emperor, Adelie, gentoo, and chinstrap—and only the emperor and Adelie stay in the Antarctic year-round.
Penguins spend much of their time at sea, diving underwater to catch fish, crustaceans, and squid. Like marine mammals, however, they must go ashore to rest and to breed and rear their young. Most breeding colonies are within a few hundred yards of shore, although gentoo and king penguin colonies can be almost 2 mi (3 km) inland. Breeding habitats range from the snowfields and ice sheets of Antarctica (where male emperors cradle their eggs on their feet rather than in a nest) to the famous equatorial islands off the coast of Ecuador, where Galapagos penguins breed in lava fields. Most species establish colonies in open, level terrain, often beneath coastal cliffs, although macaroni and chinstrap penguins nest on rocky slopes. Gentoo penguins nest amid mounds of tussock
grass, and all of the Spheniscus penguins nest in protected places, either in underground burrows or beneath bushes. In Southern Chile, Magellanic penguins go ashore to lay their eggs in coastal beech forests.
Penguins are highly social birds. They gather to breed in small groups or in large, noisy colonies, and they take to the water in flocks. Penguins interact constantly with their neighbors and they have evolved a large repertoire of complex behaviors that allow them to appease aggression, court a mate, and recognize the mate and offspring amid the throngs of birds.
To avoid aggression when entering or leaving the colony, a penguin adopts the "slender walk" behavior, lowering its head and holding its flippers forward as it threads its way past other birds. Many species use a sideways stare to signal "Keep away." Fights break out despite such submissive and defensive behaviors, and penguins will peck, bite, and hit opponents with their flippers. Some species engage in ritualized bill-jousting, using the bill like a sword to attack and parry.
A male penguin claiming a nest site puts on an "ecstatic display," standing erect with his bill pointed skyward while waving his flippers and calling loudly. When a female joins her mate, they cement the pair bond with a mutual ecstatic display and by bowing to one another. Among the smaller penguin species, courting pairs also engage in mutual preening.
Mutual displays and bowing continue after the pair have mated and one or two eggs are laid; these behaviors constitute a "nest relief ceremony" conducted when the male and female change places on the nest. Adult birds recognize one another
by these behaviors and also by voice. Species that form the largest colonies (pygoscelids and some eudyptids) have the most elaborate mate-recognition displays. Experiments with recorded calls have shown that king penguins respond to their mate's calls but not to those of neighbors or other colony members, and chicks recognize their parents by a distinct vocal signature based on frequency modulation.
When penguins head to sea to forage, they typically stay in groups rather than hunt alone. This way each individual reduces its risk of being eaten. Foraging flocks may also be more efficient at finding food than are solitary birds.
Swimming penguins sometimes progress by porpoising, or shooting out of the water to skim above the surface for a few feet before splashing back down. While porpoising, the birds grab a breath in mid-air. On land, penguins walk upright with a waddling gait; some also progress by two-footed jumps (this method of locomotion gives the rockhopper penguin its name). Penguins can also travel by tobogganing, or sliding on their bellies over ice and snow. Some species travel hundreds of miles to inland nesting sites this way.
Feeding ecology and diet
Penguins feed at sea by diving after prey, which may be small fish, crustaceans, or squid. A bird can swallow a large number of prey items before it has to return to the surface to breathe. Different species take different prey; crested penguins (eudyptid species) eat mostly krill and other small crustaceans that occur in dense swarms. Spheniscus penguins and the little penguin eat small fish such as anchovies and sprats. Pygoscelid penguins eat almost nothing but krill.
Because penguins pursue their prey underwater, often in very cold water, few humans have seen a penguin capture prey. Nonetheless, using radio and satellite telemetry and miniaturized instruments that record depth, swimming speed, and duration of dives, scientists have learned much in the past decade about penguin foraging behavior. Penguins make shallow dives as they move from the shore to a foraging area, resting on the surface between dives. When they are pursuing prey, they dive deeper and stay underwater longer. The longest documented penguin dive was 18 minutes for an emperor penguin. Emperors are also the deepest divers; one researcher documented a bird that reached a depth of 1755 feet (535 meters). Diving ability seems to be positively correlated with body size: king penguins can dive for seven to 10 minutes, most medium-sized penguins dive for three to six minutes, and little penguins rarely dive for more than a minute or deeper than 98 ft (30 m). Penguins dive deepest at midday; they rely on excellent vision to spot prey, so low light conditions at dawn and dusk probably limit them to shallower dives at these times.
Penguins do not breed until they are at least two to five years old. For example, gentoo, little, and yellow-eyed penguins attempt to breed at age two; king and emperor penguins delay breeding until they are at least three years old; and macaroni and royal penguins wait at least five years. Females are ready to breed at a younger age than males. Penguins are usually monogamous and may take the same mate year after year; however, extra-pair copulations do occur among Humboldt penguins and others.
Emperor and king penguins build no nest and simply hold the egg on their feet. Gentoo penguins build nests of stones, and the spheniscids and little penguins dig burrows and nest underground.
The two largest penguin species lay a single egg. Other species usually have a two-egg clutch but occasionally lay one or three eggs. Crested penguins lay two eggs but rarely raise two offspring; the first egg laid is usually smaller than the second and is often lost or destroyed before it hatches.
Incubation period varies among species from 33 to 64 days. Chicks in the same clutch hatch at the same time or within a
day of each other. One parent broods the down-covered chicks while the other goes on a foraging trip; upon return, the parent regurgitates food for the chicks. When the chicks no longer require brooding to maintain body temperature, the parents continue to guard them from predators.
Parental care can be quite extended; for example, king penguins care for chicks for more than 12 months. Young birds are ready to leave the nest when their down is replaced by feathers. Juveniles look much like adults, though the species-specific crests or cheek patches are less bright in young birds. After young birds leave the nest, they jump in the water and pursue prey without having had any obvious training from their parents in how to forage.
The exact impact of human actions on penguin populations is hard to measure because these birds naturally experience dramatic population fluctuations when changing ocean conditions affect food availability. From the eighteenth century to the early twentieth century, crews of whaling and sealing ships took millions of penguins and their eggs for food and also used the birds as bait. In places, penguins were rendered to produce oil; king penguins are thought to have been eradicated on Heard Island for this reason. Human enterprise has caused other problems for penguins; for example, Humboldt penguins in South America prefer to dig breeding burrows in centuries-old mounds of accumulated guano, but most of these breeding sites have been mined for fertilizer. Among the modern problems penguins face are oil pollution from tanker spills and bilge flushing and entanglement in discarded fishing nets. Commercial fishing may also reduce food supplies for some populations. Where human populations concentrate near penguin habitat, domestic animals can be a problem: cattle and sheep trample burrows and nests; rabbits browse away the concealing vegetation around nests; and introduced species including dogs, feral cats, ferrets, and stoats prey on nestlings.
Twelve of 17 penguin species are included on the 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Erect-crested, Galapagos, and yellow-eyed penguins are listed as Endangered. The yellow-eyed penguin, found in New Zealand, has the smallest population of any species; much of its habitat has been lost to logging and farming, and introduced predators are also a problem. Rockhopper, macaroni, Fiordland, Snares, royal, African, and Humboldt penguins are listed as Vulnerable. Two species are classified as Lower Risk: gentoo penguins and Magellanic penguins.
Significance to humans
During the era of sailing ships, penguins were taken by the hundreds of thousands, for food and for the extraction of oil. Eggs were also collected in large numbers, and penguin guano was mined for fertilizer. Though penguins are now protected in most countries, they are sometimes taken illegally for food and bait. Since the 1960s, penguin colonies in the Antarctic, Argentina, and the Galapagos have become tourist attractions, drawing thousands to tens of thousands of visitors. Penguins are also popular as advertising logos (most notably for books, coffee, and cigarettes), as hockey team mascots, and as characters in cartoons and children's books.
List of SpeciesEmperor penguin
Aptenodytes forsteri G. R. Gray, 1844, Antarctic Seas.
other common names
French: Manchot empereur; German: Kaiserpinguin; Spanish: Pingüino Emperador.
39.4–51.2 in (100–130 cm); female weight 44.5–70.5 lb (20.2–32 kg); male 48.3–88 lb (21.9–40 kg). The largest penguin is about the same size as the smallest diving marine mammal, the Galapagos fur seal (Arctocephalus galapagoensis). Bright yellow ear patches contrast sharply with black head, chin, and throat. Back is dark blue-gray, underparts are white shading to pale yellow on upper breast. Bill is slender and down-curving. Eyes are brown. Upper bill is black and lower bill is pink, orange, or lilac. Feet and legs are black. Juvenile is similar to adult but smaller and duller, with white ear-patches and black bill.
Breed on the coast of the Antarctic continent and adjacent islands, from 66° to 78° south latitude. Rarely seen outside of the Antarctic, although migrating birds are occasionally spotted near the Falkland Islands, southern New Zealand, and southern South America.
Cold waters of the Antarctic zone, where pack ice forms. Usually breed on sea ice, often on level sites sheltered by ice cliffs.
Less aggressive than some penguins and behavioral repertoire is less varied, perhaps because incubating males do not defend territories but instead huddle together for warmth. Nest colonially and forage in groups. Loud vocalizations characterized as trumpeting. Horizontal head-circling signals aggression but is also common during pair formation, copulation, egg-laying, and as part of nest-relief ceremony.
feeding ecology and diet
Birds appear to coordinate their foraging at sea, diving and surfacing as a group. Main prey type varies with location; in a 1998 study, small fish made up more than 90% of the diet in three locations. Antarctic silverfish (Pleuragramma antarcticum) were the main prey item, and small cephalopods and crustaceans were also taken. About a third of all dives are deeper than 330 ft (100m); birds sometimes dive as deep as 1,480 ft (450 m), and may feed near the sea bottom. Birds also feed near the surface along underside of ice where crustaceans gather to graze on algae. May travel 90–620 mi (150–1,000 km) in a single foraging trip.
Less mate-faithful than smaller penguins. After laying a single, large, greenish-white egg, females return to sea to feed. Males incubate alone, fasting for up to 115 days (from arrival at breeding colony to end of incubation, which lasts for 64 days). Chick has comical appearance, with black-and-white head emerging from what looks like a brown fur coat enveloping the body (actually, a layer of insulating down). Females return soon after chicks hatch and parents alternate feeding and brooding duties for 45–50 days. Chicks then form crèches (large numbers of young birds huddle together for warmth, standing close enough to touch one another). They are independent at 150 days. Adults molt after chicks leave colony.
Not threatened. Population stable or increasing; total breeding population was estimated in 1993 to be 314,000 pairs. Susceptible to human disturbance but at present face no major threats.
significance to humans
Emperor penguins are a key attraction on Antarctic ecotours, and also at Sea World in San Diego, where the Penguin Encounter exhibit is the world's only successful emperor penguin breeding colony outside of Antarctica.
Catarrhactes adeliae Hombron and Jacquinot, 1841, Adelie Land.
other common names
French: Manchot d'Adélie; German: Adeliepinguin; Spanish: Pingüino Adelia.
Female weight 8.6–10.5 lb (3,890–4,740 g); male 9.6–11.8 lb (4,340–5,350 g). Back, tail, and head (including face) are
blue-black; underparts are white. Distinctive white eye ring. Feathers cover half of bill, which is black with orange base. Eyes are brown. Legs and feet are dull white to pink with black soles.
Circumpolar, associated with pack ice of Antarctic Zone. Breeds on coasts of the Antarctic continent and surrounding islands; non-breeding distribution is not well known.
Within home range, they breed wherever land is ice-free and access from the sea is feasible.
Male and female defend territory vigorously; often fight with neighbors. Birds signal apprehension by raising head feathers. Common threat display is a sideways stare with crest raised and eyes rolled downward.
feeding ecology and diet
Take mostly krill but also fish and cephalopods. During incubation, the bird not tending the nest may make a very long foraging trip, traveling more than 93 mi (150 km) from the colony over the course of 9–25 days. One study of birds at Hope Bay documented a maximum dive of 558 ft (170 m); estimated prey capture rate was 1,150 krill per foraging trip (7.2 krill per minute).
Well studied. Monogamous, often return repeatedly to same nest site. Nest in large colonies of up to 200,000 pairs. Build nests of small stones. Considerable energy devoted to stone searching, stone stealing, and rearranging stones in nest. Two eggs laid; parents alternate incubation duties (sometimes with egg on feet) for 32–24 days. Young brooded for 22 days, then join small crèches; fed by parents until they leave colony at 50–60 days.
Not threatened. Stable or increasing; population estimated in 1993 at 2,610,000 breeding pairs. Susceptible to disturbance from human activity.
significance to humans
Ornithologist Robert Cushman Murphy called Adelies "the type and epitome of the penguin family." Adelies are responsible for the habitual comparison of penguins to little men in evening clothes.
Catarrhactes chrysolophus Brandt, 1837, Falkland Islands.
other common names
English: Crested penguin, royal penguin; French: Gorfou doré; German: Goldschopfpinguin, Haubenpinguin; Spanish: Pengüino Macarrones.
27.9 in (71 cm); male weight 8.2–14.1 lb (3,720–6,410 g); female weight 7.0–12.6 lb (3,180–5,700 g). Comical appearance, with long, yellow and orange plumes like shaggy eyebrows growing from a patch in the center of the forehead. Males noticeably larger than females but plumage similar. Head and cheeks are black or dark gray; back is slate black with blue sheen; breast, belly, and rump patch are white. Bill is stout and dark orange-brown, often ridged in older birds. Eyes are garnet red. Juveniles are smaller than adults and have lighter plumage, smaller and more scattered crest feathers, and a more slender bill.
Breeds farther south than other eudyptids, on Antarctic Peninsula and on Antarctic and subantarctic islands. In non-breeding season, probably remains in subantarctic waters.
Often nests on steep, rough terrain with little or no vegetation, including lava flows and scree slopes.
Forms colonies of 100 to more than 100,000 birds. Birds on neighboring nests often fight by bill-jousting. A courting male collects pebbles and places them at female's feet. Mated pairs engage in mutual preening of feathers. Very noisy and aggressive in breeding colonies; after females begin incubating, males go to sea and females may then be attacked by unmated males. When birds return from foraging, harsh braying calls are essential for recognition between mates and between parent and chick. Parents take turns incubating and brooding young.
feeding ecology and diet
Typically dives to 66–330 ft (20–100 m) in pursuit of prey; mean dive duration 1.48 minutes. In one study, estimated prey capture rates were 4.0–16.0 krill per dive and up to 50 amphipods per dive. At first, young are fed krill exclusively; gradually, small fish and squid are added to the diet. In the last week before the chick becomes independent, parents feed it only fish and squid.
Female alone scrapes out depression to serve as nest; both members of the pair line nest with pebbles. Eggs rough-textured with faint blue tinge. Egg laying tightly synchronized within colonies; first-laid egg is small, weighing 61–64% of second egg, which is laid 3.2 days later. First egg almost always lost or destroyed; if second egg is destroyed, normal, healthy chick may hatch from first egg. Incubation period is 35–37 days from laying of second egg. Males guard chicks for about 20 days after hatching, when young birds form crèches. Both parents continue to feed their offspring until independence at 60–70 days.
Listed as Vulnerable because the world population appears to have decreased by at least 20% over a 36-year period. Designation was based on extrapolation from a small amount of data, so large-scale surveys will be needed to confirm this penguin's status.
significance to humans
Communities in the Falkland Islands formerly observed November 9 as a holiday on which children were excused from school to collect the eggs of macaroni and other penguins.
Aptenodytes magellanicus J. R. Forster, 1781, Strait of Magellan.
other common names
French: Manchot de Magellan; German: Magellanpinguin; Spanish: Pingüino de Magallanes.
28 in (71 cm); female weight 5.9–9.0 lb (2.7–4.1 kg), male 6.4–10.6 lb (2.9–4.8 kg). Boldly striped penguin with two black
bands across chest. Sexes similar but female smaller than male. Cheeks and cap brownish black, divided by wide white ring. Black back and white underparts lightly splotched with black. Stubby black bill with gray band near tip. Eyes are brown. Feet are pink blotched with black. Juveniles smaller than adults and breast bands are not distinct.
Breeds in coastal areas and on offshore islands along the southern part of South America, occasionally in southern coastal Australia and New Zealand. Breeding distribution seems to be moving northward. Migratory outside of breeding season; birds from colonies at the tip of south America may travel as far north as Peru and southern Brazil.
Breeds on bare or vegetated islands, in flat areas and on cliff faces. Colonies located in areas where offshore winds cause upwelling of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters so that primary productivity is high. Birds have best nesting success in protected sites under bushes or other vegetation. Feed inshore during breeding season and in pelagic waters during migration.
Foraging birds may be seen porpoising in long lines, one after the other. Breed in large colonies; often return to the same nest site from year to year. Voice described as a mournful, donkey-like braying; often call in chorus at night.
feeding ecology and diet
Eat mostly small, schooling fish such as anchovies, sardines, and sprats but diet varies depending on prey availability. Most dives descend 66–164 ft (20–50 m). Underwater swimming speed measured at about 4.7 mi/hr (7.6 km/hr).
Where soil allows digging, they nest in burrows; otherwise they build nests on the ground. Both members of pair build nest. Two-egg clutch is laid and eggs are of similar size. Parents share incubation, brooding, and guarding duties. Chick hatched from second-laid egg less likely to survive to fledging. Chicks independent at 60–70 days.
Listed as Near Threatened. A 1994 study estimated that oil pollution kills 40,000 penguins a year on the southern coast of Argentina.
significance to humans
In the past, native peoples killed penguins for meat and for their skins. Today, Magellanic penguin rookeries at Punta Tombo in Argentina are a major ecotourism destination, attracting 50,000 visitors a year.
Catarrhactes antipodes Hombron and Jacquinot, 1841, Auckland Islands.
other common names
French: Manchot antipode; German: Gelbaugenpinguin; Spanish: Pingüino de Ojos Amarillos.
22.0–30.7 in (56–78 cm); female weight 9.3–15.5 lb (4,200–7,500 g); male 9.70–18.7 lb (4,400–8,500 g). The only penguin with yellow eyes; band of yellow feathers extends from one
edge of mouth to the other, passing through the eyes and around the nape of the head. Head feathers are yellow with a central black streak; back and tail are slate blue; flippers are darker blue; and breast and belly are white. Long slender bill is red-brown above cream shading to red-brown below. Pale pink feet turn magenta with exertion. Juveniles lack yellow band of feathers around nape.
Endemic to New Zealand and nearby smaller islands. Most birds winter on or near the breeding grounds.
Breed in coastal areas of southern New Zealand and neighboring subantarctic islands. Birds stay near breeding sites year round, except for juveniles that move north to feeding grounds for a few months after fledging. Nest from sea level to elevation of 820 ft (250 m) on sea-facing, forested slopes and cliff tops, usually amid dense forest vegetation. Probably choose cool, shady forests to avoid overheating.
Gregarious in winter (non-breeding season); roost communally on flat, open ground and gather in groups of 50–100 on beaches before departing for foraging areas. They forage alone at sea. Secretive and especially wary of humans. During breeding season they come ashore at night and negotiate difficult terrain to reach cliff-top breeding areas. The least colonial of penguins when breeding; nests are clustered together only because appropriate habitat is limited. Calls are less harsh than those of other penguins; Maori name, hoiho, means "noise shouter."
feeding ecology and diet
Eat mostly fish, some squid, and rarely crustaceans. While one parent guards chick, off-duty bird heads to sea to forage in afternoon and returns at dusk. Outside of the breeding season, most birds head to sea at dawn and return before dark.
Nest out of sight of nearest neighbors amid dense vegetation. Prefer hardwood (Podocarpus) forests (where nest sites are at the base of trees or alongside fallen longs) but also nest in fields of tussock grass. Nesting territory may be defended year-round. Nest is a shallow bowl of twigs and other plant matter constructed by both parents. Two eggs laid, three to five days apart. Parents alternate incubation shifts of one to seven days during 39–51 day incubation period and also take turns brooding chicks for four to six weeks.
A 1990 study indicated the population had declined at least 75% over 40 years. Changed from Vulnerable to Endangered; total breeding population estimated to be fewer than 2,000 pairs. Breeding range is very small, and habitat has been degraded, especially by clearing of hardwood forests for farming. In addition, cattle trample nests and introduced ferrets, stoats, and feral cats are significant predators. Adults also caught and killed accidentally in fishing nets. Ongoing conservation efforts may be starting to reverse population decline.
significance to humans
Yellow-eyed penguins have become a figurehead species of the New Zealand environmental movement.
Eudyptula minor J. R. Forster, 1781, Dusky Sound, South Island, New Zealand.
other common names
English: Fairy penguin, little blue penguin, white-flippered penguin; French: Manchot pygmée; German: Weissflügelpinguin, Zwergpinguin; Spanish: Pingüino Pequeño.
15.7–17.7 in (40–45 cm); weight 2.2 lb (1 kg). The smallest penguin; male larger than female. Indigo-blue above, white below. Eyes are gray to hazel. Stout black bill is slightly hooked. Feet are white above with black soles. Juveniles similar to adult but smaller and with slimmer bill; plumage brighter than that of adults.
Southern coast of Australia; coastal New Zealand; offshore islands.
Temperate inshore waters; often seen in bays and estuaries. Often breeds in secluded bays, promontories, or islands, often at the base of cliffs. Prefers flat areas with protective vegetation. Nests in burrows but also under rocks, in caves, and under mounds of tussock-grass. Has adapted to nest around humans, including under houses and in culverts, and will also use artificial burrows. Require the shelter of burrows or rocks or bushes during molt.
Colonial; adults reside at breeding sites year-round. Typically forage within 0.6 mi (1 km) of shore but may travel farther. Mated pairs stay together year-round. Roost alone or in pairs, often in burrows. The most nocturnal of all penguins. Calls include short yaps, grunts, trilling, and braying.
feeding ecology and diet
Prefer small fish or cephalopods. When swimming underwater, a bird will circle a school several times and then plunge through its middle.
Both parents dig the burrow and build the nest; they also share incubation and feeding duties. Nest built of grass and other
plant material. Two eggs laid over three to five days. Parents accept eggs other than their own and have been seen to incubate stones, golf balls, and teacups. Chicks are brooded for 10 days and are guarded for another 10–21 days.
Not threatened; however, populations described as stable or decreasing. Housing developments and farmland have replaced many breeding areas. Face predation from introduced foxes and dogs; also, livestock trample nesting sites and rabbits eat protective vegetation around nests. Erosion and run-off from agriculture affects marine water quality, which can reduce food supply and also increase rates of disease.
significance to humans
Little penguins returning from a night's fishing form a parade that is a popular tourist attraction on resort beaches.
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Cynthia Ann Berger, MS