Yellow-Eyed Penguin Facts | New Zealand Wildlife Guide
- A tall and slender bird that stands nearly 2 feet high and weighs between 11 and 18 pounds.
- As its name suggests, its distinct features are its yellow eyes.
- The penguin’s coloring is black and white, with the exception of a crown of yellow feathers encircling its head.
- Males and females look relatively similar, though males frequently have broader heads and feet.
- During the molting season, their appearance changes due to their pinfeathers.
- Juvenile birds have gray eyes and dark brown or gray downy feather. They do not have a crown of bright yellow feathers like adults; it is either absent or drab in color.
Habitat & Feeding HabitsThe yellow-eyed penguin is found along the southeast coast of the South Island, in addition to the New Zealand islands of Campbell, Auckland, and the coastal forests of Stewart. This carnivorous species feeds mostly on fish and squid and is especially fond of red and blue cod, opal fish, sprat, silversides and ahuru.
BehaviorDuring molting season, individual birds can lose up to 8 pounds. In the weeks after molting, yellow-eyed penguins return to the ocean in droves, hunting alone or with two or three individuals. This is a social time for the birds, and new feathers are preened, as the penguins feast on the sea’s bounty. The yellow-eyed penguin is a strong swimmer and can typically out swim most predators in the sea. Land predators of this species include wild cats, ferrets, stoats and dogs.
BreedingThe courting season for yellow-eyed penguins begins around the month of May; the breeding season occurs in August with the selection of mates and nest sites. Unlike other penguin species, yellow-eyed penguins refrain from nesting in colonies. They make private nests in the forests of New Zealand and do not socialize with other individuals. They prefer secluded spots that are usually backed by a tree or a log and will not nest in sight of other birds. The only social times occur during mating rituals and after molting. During courtship, yellow-eyed penguins will group with other individuals to look for mates. Calls and certain types of body language indicate whether potential mates are interested. Yellow-eyed penguins form long-term pairs and will only separate if a penguin is infertile or dies.
A yellow-eyed penguin male mounts a female during copulation, rapidly flapping his flippers along her sides, as he fertilizes the female’s two eggs, which have already begun developing. The eggs are laid after 12 days and are incubated 39 to 51 days before hatching. For the chicks’ first six weeks of life, both parents closely guard their young, taking turns each day to dive for fish to feed the chicks.
Once the chicks reach six weeks of age, they are abandoned by both parents who leave in order to feed. Chicks typically remain in the nest until mid-February. Yellow-eyed penguins reach sexual maturity at 2 or 3 years of age for females, and 3 to 5 years for males, with an average lifespan of 23 years.
ConservationThe yellow-eyed penguin is currently an endangered species. An estimated 3,400 breeding yellow-eyed penguins are left in the wild, and the population on the South Island of New Zealand has fallen by 76 percent since 1996. Threats to this species include habitat degradation, predators brought to the islands by humans, ocean pollution, and loss of food sources from overfishing. They are also often disturbed by humans and livestock who inhabit their coastal range.
Header Credit: Kimberley Collins [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons
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