Marine Bird Spotlight - Little Blue Penguin
These are the world’s smallest penguin measuring in at around 25cm tall and weighing in between 1kg – 1.5kgs. They are known by many names, most commonly referred to as blue penguins, little penguin and little blue penguin. They are found around most of New Zealand’s coastline and also southern Australia.
You can identify these penguins quite easily as their plumage is blue with a white underbelly.
Little Blue Penguins like to forage out to sea (Up to 25km offshore and up to 70km from their colony) during the day where they are hunting for small fish, crustaceans and squid, they return back to land under the cover of darkness and live underground in burrows, in man-made structures or under buildings even.
Around the age of 2-3 years old is when these penguins reach breeding age. Two eggs are generally laid between the months of August to November in their burrows. The adults will take turns to stay with the chicks not leaving them alone for the first 3 weeks, then both adults can go out to sea to forage. It is around the 8 week period that the chicks are ready to fledge. It is then that they are independent and the adults are able to stock up on food before they begin their annual moult (shed their feathers so they can grow another waterproof coat) which usually last up to 2 weeks. During this time the adults are not able to head out to sea to feed and can be particularly vulnerable as they are unable to swim and also to any predators that are around.
Life expectancy of the Little Blue Penguins is between 6-7 years however individuals have been known the live as long as 25 years old.
Main threats to these penguins are likely to be dogs, cats, ferrets and stoats. Here are a few tips from the Dept of Conservation on how you can help out these penguins:
How to make little penguins safer:
- Tie your dog up at night and keep it on a leash at the beach.
- Drive carefully along any coast road, especially at dusk and dawn.
A scruffy penguin is probably moulting, not sick:
- Leave it alone.
- The safest place for a moulting bird is its hiding place away from dogs, cats, ferrets and stoats.
There is a small breeding colony that exists near the Kaikoura Coastguard building in South Bay, Kaikoura. Volunteers have built artificial burrows and installed them underneath for these penguins to nest in at night. These penguins can also be found nesting in the surrounding area.
There is some great work being done by the team at K.O.R.I (Kaikoura Ocean Research Institute) with research and protection of the Little Blue Penguins in Kaikoura. Check out this link for some more information on what they do and how you can sponsor a Little Blue.