Little Penguin

Little (Fairy) Penguin (Eudyptula minor)

Little Penguins come ashore, copyright Phillip Island Nature Park

Is the smallest penguin in the world – an adult weighs only around 1.5 kg and measures about 30–33 mm. They survive by foraging at sea for fish and marine invertebrates, such as squid. When searching for food, they need to dive down as far as 20 m, so penguins rub an oil from a gland at the base of their tail into each feather while preening to keep them waterproof.

Penguins can come ashore at night, but if they spend the night out in the oceans they can sleep for periods of time while floating. But when penguins are moulting (usually between February and April) they need to remain ashore, and this makes them quite irritable birds. Not only do penguins like to be well fed, on land they are vulnerable to predation from roaming dogs and, more seriously, foxes. see link.

Foxes have depleted colonies of penguin all around Australia. To prevent further harm from this carnivorous mammal, a number of prevention methods have been put in place, including the use of Maremma sheepdogs, penguin wardens (human volunteers) and pest-control methods.

            From May till July, Little penguins prepare a nest in a burrow. The parents usually return to the same nest year after year. Mating and fighting over females at this time is common and quite noisy. From August till October, two eggs on average are laid, usually two days apart. The parents share incubation for 35 days, with one parent fishing at sea and returning at dusk. Predators of eggs are usually by Pacific gulls.

            From November to January, the chicks hatch and are covered dark fluff. After dusk each night the fishing parent comes ashore to feed them by regurgitating food. After two to three weeks both parents leave them at the burrow during the day, returning at night to feed them. After eight weeks the birds have developed feathers and are preening, which gets their feathers ready to travel out to sea. The parents then stop feeding them, which triggers the young to search for food.

Normally only one chick survives to adulthood. Many fledglings struggle at sea and wildlife rescue volunteers answer many calls to help underweight birds washed up on key beaches around Australia. These birds are placed in rehabilitation and fed to increase their weight and then released back into the ocean. If young penguins learn to fish, to avoid predation from sharks, Leopard or New Zealand fur-seals, and foxes on land, they mature after two to three years to begin their own family.