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A photo of a Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor)
Little Penguin

Little Penguin

Eudyptula minor

The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor), also affectionately known as the Fairy Penguin, Little Blue Penguin, or by its Māori name kororā, is the smallest member of the penguin family. This charming bird is distinguished by its slate-blue plumage, which adorns its head and upper parts, while its underparts are a clean white, starting from the chin down to the belly. The flippers share the same blue hue. Adults typically stand between 30 and 33 cm tall and weigh around 1.5 kg. Their beak is a dark grey-black measuring 3-4 cm, the irises can be pale silvery-grey, bluish-grey, or hazel, and their feet are pink with black soles and webbing. Juveniles can be identified by their shorter bills and lighter upperparts.

Identification Tips

To identify the Little Penguin, look for its small stature, blue and white plumage, and the characteristic waddle as it moves on land. The dark grey-black beak and pale irises are also key features. When observing immature individuals, note the shorter bill and the less intense coloration of their upperparts compared to adults.

Habitat

Little Penguins are fossorial birds, meaning they nest in burrows. They are found along coastlines where they can access marine feeding grounds and have suitable land for burrowing and breeding.

Distribution

Eudyptula minor is endemic to New Zealand, breeding along most of its coastline, including the Chatham Islands. Notably, they are absent from the Otago region of New Zealand's South Island, where the closely related Australian species, Eudyptula novaehollandiae, is found.

Behaviour

Little Penguins are known for their nocturnal habits, often emerging from the sea under the cover of darkness to return to their burrows. They exhibit strong site fidelity to their nesting areas. The Australian lineage of these penguins is observed to form large groups when returning to shore, a behavior not commonly seen in the New Zealand lineage.

Song & Calls

The Little Penguin's vocalizations are distinct between the New Zealand and Australian lineages, with females showing a preference for the local calls of their respective regions.

Breeding

These penguins are known to double brood, laying a second clutch of eggs after the first has fledged, a behavior observed in both the Australian lineage and the Otago population. This may be a response to changing environmental conditions such as sea surface temperatures and food availability.

Similar Species

The Australian Little Penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae) is similar in appearance but can be distinguished by its brighter blue feathers and different vocalization patterns.

Diet and Feeding

The diet of Little Penguins consists mainly of small fish, cephalopods, and crustaceans. They are adept divers, often traveling and diving extensively, including to the sea floor, to hunt for prey such as arrow squid, slender sprat, Graham's gudgeon, red cod, and ahuru.

Conservation status

The Little Penguin is classified as "at risk - declining" under New Zealand's Wildlife Act 1953. While not considered endangered in New Zealand, the white-flippered subspecies is of particular concern due to significant declines in its population.

Zoological exhibits

Little Penguins can be viewed in various zoological exhibits across New Zealand and Australia, where they are housed in enclosures that mimic their natural habitat, complete with nesting boxes and swimming pools. These exhibits provide an opportunity for the public to observe and learn about these delightful birds up close.

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