Help the Little Penguins
Australia's Little Penguin is the world's smallest penguin.
A lightweight of just about 1 kg it is also called Fairy Penguin. By comparison, the Emperor Penguin, the largest of the world's 18 penguin species, weighs up to 38 kg.
The Little Penguin's Latin name Eudyptula minor means 'Good little diver', and that says precisely what being a Little Penguin is all about.
With a body shaped like a torpedo, its wings transformed into flippers, and its plumage perfectly waterproof, the Little Penguin is perfectly adapted for life at sea.
All penguins live in the Southern Hemisphere, from the South Pole to the equatorial Galapagos Islands.
Australia's own Little Penguin lives along the southern edge of mainland Australia and in Tasmania, and it also occurs in New Zealand and the Chatham Islands.
Most breeding pairs live in colonies, although some nest on their own. Most colonies are on islands, with only scattered locations left on the mainland.
Their upper parts and back are greyish blue, while their underside is white. This camouflage - something they have in common with the Great White Shark! - makes them almost invisible from above as well as from below as they zoom through the water catching fish.
When they come ashore, however, the birds' dark upper plumage stands out distinctively against the sand - one of the reasons why the Little Penguins wait until dark before they return to their burrows. The Phillip Island penguin parade is a spectacular display of this behaviour!
Being somewhat clumsy and poorly camouflaged on land is not the only safety hazard in a Little Penguin's life. Their natural predators are leopard seals, sea lions, orcas and sea eagles who take the occasional penguin at sea. What can really spell trouble for the breeding colonies though is a human neighbourhood with its noise, disturbance, development, weeds overgrowing their burrows, dogs and foxes. In the water oil spills, damage to sea grass beds and plastic and other debris can become a hazard.
Becoming a Backyard Buddy really is one of the best things you can do to help the Little Penguins get by in Australia's backyard!
Little Penguins love:
- Some personal space - especially around their burrows during breeding season.
- Quiet after dark - so they can get safely from their burrows into the water to find food and back again.
- Clean healthy water, with lots of seagrass brimming with anchovies, pilchards, squid and krill.
But they don't like:
- Dogs on the foreshore – which can kill or frighten adult penguins, leaving chicks without care.
- Cats and foxes – which hunt Little Penguins in their burrows.
- Discarded fishing line and hooks – which strangle Little Penguins or injure their flippers and feet.
- Rubbish that entangles, injures and even suffocates Little Penguins.
- Boats moored or rafted together, which create a barrier between their nests and the water.
If you live near Little Penguins there's a lot you can do to be a buddy:
- Keep your dog away from where they live and all protected areas.
- Keep your cat inside at night and during the day if possible.
- Keep noise or light down near the shore and on the water.
- Never discard fishing tackle or line.
- Never put oil or chemicals down the drain.
- If you have a boat, reduce speed to 4 knots or less near penguins.
- Maintain your boat to help stop fuel and oil leaking into the water.
- Watch penguins from a safe distance, so you don't disturb them.
- Never moor close to the shore where penguins breed.
- Little Penguins are also called Fairy Penguins.
- They are the smallest type of penguin in the world.
- They weigh just 1 kg and are only 30 – 40 cm tall.
- While excellent swimmers, they cannot fly.
- Often they have the same mate for life.
- Both parents feed and care for the young.
- Young penguins leave the nest at 7-9 weeks and live for up to 7 years.
- At last count, there were around 60 pairs in the Manly colony.