Little Penguins (Eudyptula minor) are the smallest of all penguin species and are endemic to Australia. We have a soft spot for these flightless seabirds and see them often around the Bass Strait Islands. The Little Penguin is the very endearing subject of our 53rd Bird Photography Challenge.
What does it look like?The Little Penguin stands approximately 33cm tall, weighs around one kilogram and lives for approximately seven years. The adult Little Penguin has dark blue plumage on the back and white feathers on the underparts. The slate blue head and back blend in with the ocean to camouflage against predators flying or swimming overhead, and the light stomach blends in with the sky to make it less conspicuous against predators swimming underneath.
The dark blue wings have developed into flippers used for swimming. In fact fossil records show that the Little Penguins traded their wings for flippers about 65 million years ago.
The Little Penguin has small legs and big pink webbed feet with black soles. Only able to take small steps, it has to waddle awkwardly to get some momentum on land. But when you see it at sea, its streamline shape, the propulsion of its flippers and the use of its tail and feet as rudder enable it to dive efficiently between 10 and 30 meters and sometimes more, to catch its prey. Under water it looks like it is flying effortlessly and swiftly.
Did you know?
Little Penguins sing – very loudly! In fact there are the most vocal of penguin species. The distinctive individual song moves from a bass rumble to a trumpeting cry, accompanied by flipper, beak and body movements. These calls vary in intensity from a “half-trumpet” display to a fevered pitch. A penguin colony at night is not a quiet affair. If anchored nearby, it might take a while for you to fall asleep with the noisy racket!
How does it behave?
Little Penguins are diurnal and spend 80% of their time foraging at sea, making an average of 700 dives a day. They can swim 10 to 100 km each day. No wonder their scientific name means “good little diver”! During their extensive daily outings, they feed on small fish, squid and crustaceans.During breeding and chick rearing seasons, they leave their nest at sunrise, forage for food throughout the day and return just after dusk to their nesting burrows. They only move on land after sunset and tend to do so in small groups to protect against predators.
Little penguins typically produce one clutch of eggs. They are monogamous during a breeding season and share the chick rearing duties. The burrows are excavations close to the sea in sand dunes, under logs or can also be located in crevices or caves, or even man-made structures.
Where is it found?
Little Penguins are only found along the southern coastline of Australia and in New Zealand, where they live in colonies. In Australia the colonies primarily exist on offshore islands where they are protected from feral terrestrial predators and human disturbance. This is the case for instance in Bass Strait, notably on Babel Island. The world population is estimated at around 350,000 to 600,000 animals. Little Penguins are not endangered, but some populations are threatened by human interference.
We photographed the Little Penguins in the gallery in three main spots: at Grassy on King Island, at Three Hummock Island in western Bass Strait, and at Deal Island in Eastern Bass Strait.
Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.