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Little Penguin
Eudyptula minor

Sphenisciforme Order – Spheniscidae Family

The Little Penguin is the smallest species of this family. Unlike most of the other penguins, this species lives and breeds in burrows or natural holes, and spends the day out at sea, alone or in small groups.
This species is also named Fairy Penguin, Little Blue Penguin or Blue Penguin, from its small size and its slate-blue plumage.
The Little Penguin has several subspecies, and among them, the White-flippered Penguin (E.m. albosignata) is sometimes considered a full species. But currently, it is considered a colour morph or a subspecies of the Little Penguin since 2012.  

Length: 40-45 cm
Weight: 1000 g

The adult resembles juveniles of genus Spheniscus, with short, stocky body. It has pale blue to slate-blue upperparts, depending on the season and the age.
The underparts are white, with indistinct transition between upperparts and underparts, from grey to brown, mainly visible in the face. The flippers are bluish above and white below.
The head is like the upperparts, with slate-grey ear-coverts fading to white below.
The bill is dark blackish-grey, and is about 3-4 centimetres long. The eyes are bluish-grey or pale grey. Legs and webbed feet are pink, with black soles and webbing.

The female is similar but smaller than male and with thinner bill.
The immature has paler upperparts and shorter bill than adults.

The Little Penguin has six subspecies spread along the coasts of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.
E.m. minor (here described) is found in W and S South island and Stewart Island.
E.m. novaehollandiae is found in S Australia and Tasmania.
E.m. iredalei from N North Island.
E.m. variabilis from S North Island and Cook Strait.
E.m. chathamensis from Chatham Island. This race is very similar to nominate, but the eyes are mostly dark grey or brown.
E.m. albosignata (here displayed too) from E South Island. This one has white leading and trailing edges on flippers. This subspecies is evaluated as Endangered.

E.m. albosignata

The Little Penguin feeds on small fish such as anchovies, and also squid, plankton, krill and pilchards. It also takes crab larvae, crustaceans and sea-horses caught on the seafloor. Fish is swallowed whole. The usual size is 10-130 mm long.
It performs pursuit-diving to capture preys and shallow dives between one and 11 metres depth. But it may sometimes reach the seabed.

It often hunts alone, but sometimes in groups of up to 10 penguins or more. They frequently swim round shoals in concentric circles, before to plunge into the shoal. On the other hand, preys are pursued directly in shallow water.

E.m. albosignata

This species may dive down to 65-70 metres. The swimming speed is about 2, 5 km/hour, and the dive lasts about 20 seconds.
It forages during the day, leaving its territory before dawn and returning at dusk, in order to avoid predation.

The Little Penguin can breed in all months and has short breeding cycle. The male performs courtship displays to attract a female. It stands with both flippers and bill pointing upwards, and utters its mating braying call. Once paired, both mates display by walking together in small circles around the nest while braying loudly, prior to copulation.            
They have long-term pair-bonds and are usually paired for life. They are monogamous.
This species nests in hollows, rock crevices or cracks, burrows or even under roots or vegetation in order to avoid the direct sunlight. They moult after the breeding season. 

The Little Penguin is clumsy when walking on the ground, but underwater, it can swim at speeds of 2, 5 km/hour, propelled by its flippers.
This species is sedentary, and mainly the adults which return to the colonies after moulting. However, the juveniles leave the colonies and perform dispersive movements, sometimes up to 1000 km from their natal colony. They are vagrant to Snares Is.

The female lays two eggs, and often both chicks survive. Both parents share the incubation during 33 to 39 days, with shifts of 1-3 days. An adult remains with the chicks while the other parent is collecting food at sea. Juveniles depend on parents for one month. Crèches are unusual in this species, or with only 3-6 birds. Then, the young penguins go to sea at 50-65 days old, after moulting. They are sexually mature at 2-3 years old.
This species can produce 2 or 3 clutches per year.

The Little Penguin’s populations are declining, often due to introduced predators, decrease of numbers of preys and oil pollution. Their breeding habitats are affected by coastal erosion, human developments and pollution.
However, the Little Penguin is not currently threatened, but the subspecies “albosignata” is considered as Endangered with restricted range.

E.m. albosignata

The Little Penguin is usually found in temperate marine waters. It breeds on rocky or sandy islands, in sand dunes or at cliff base. The nesting areas can be sometimes about 300 metres from the coast, on land, often more than 50 metres above the water level. They feed close to the coasts.

The Little Penguin is very noisy when on land, and mainly before the departure at dawn for feeding at sea. Each adult or chick has distinctive calls used in courtship, territory defence, aggressive encounters and recognition.
The male utters typical “brays” but it also produces grunts, roars and various beeps. Chicks give high-pitched vocal signals.

The Little Penguin can breed in all months, but the season may vary according to the location and the year.
They nest colonially, but single breeding pairs can be common. Within the colony, the nests are close to each other. The nest is a burrow dug in sand, but the Little Penguin may also nest in caves, rock crevices, under vegetation and even under human constructions. They usually breed on offshore islands, or along the mainland coast, in areas inaccessible to predators.
E.m. minor
E.m. minor
E.m. minor
E.m. minor
E.m. chathamensis