Friday, March 7, 2014

The Yellow-Eyed Penguin

The Yellow-eyed Penguin or Hoiho is a penguin native to New Zealand. These birds are slate grey with a white breast. They have a very unique yellow eyes, accentuated by the yellow band that runs from the eyes around the back of the head. Males and females are identical but juveniles lack the yellow eyes and bands of older birds. This is a mid-sized penguin, measuring 62–79 cm (24–31 in) long. Weights vary through the year being greatest, 5.5 to 8 kg (12–18 lbs), just before moulting and least, 3 to 6 kg (6.6–13.2 lbs), after moulting. The Yellow-eyed Penguin may be long lived, with some individuals reaching 20 years of age.

 Did You Know

           This species of penguin is the third largest of all the penguins after Emperor and King Penguin. Hoiho (Maori name) are endemic to New Zealand and as the name suggests they are 'noisy shouter', because of their loud and distinctive call.

Scientific Classification


Other Names

The Yellow-eyed Penguin


The yellow-eyed penguin may be the rarest penguin in the world. The coastal forests of their habitat, particularly of mainland New Zealand, have been destroyed to make way for development and agriculture. The Yellow-eyed Penguin is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007.


This species is listed as Endangered because it is confined to a very small range when breeding, in which its forest/scrub habitat has declined in quality. Its population has undergone extreme fluctuations and is now thought to be in overall decline. The estimated total population by 1988/1989 was 5,930-6,970 birds, comprising 3,560-4,180 breeders and 2,370-2,790 non-breeders. The population declines because of the habitat loss and tourism and the present population is approximated to be 1500 breeding pairs.


           Studies have been carried out on the behaviour, ecology and reproduction and it confirms that the Yellow-eyed penguins breed in forest or scrubland, choosing to build nests against rocks or tree trunks, which provide some protection from the elements.


It is found in New Zealand, on the south-east coast of the South Island most notably on Otago Peninsula, Foveaux Strait, Stewart Island, and sub-Antarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell Islands. It expanded its range from the sub Antarctic islands to the main islands of New Zealand after the extinction of the Waitaha Penguin several hundred years ago.


          Yellow-eyed penguin feeds primarily on red cod, opal fish, sprat, silversides, ahuru, blue cod and squid.  The yellow-eyed penguin is the least social, preferring to nest in forest, scrub or dense flax, and strangely, out of sight of other penguins. The adults rarely venture far from shore during the breeding season, usually travelling up to 8-10 kilometres from shore to their feeding grounds, and diving up to 130 metres as many as 200 times each day to catch prey of small fish.  Pairs are monogamous and stay together for life. The breeding season is particularly long, beginning with courtship in August; the clutch of two eggs is laid in mid-September to mid-October on a nest constructed from sticks, chicks fledge in March the following year.

            Penguins moult once a year but during this time they need to remain on land while the feathers are replaced. The three-week moult takes place in February and March following the fledging of the chicks. Penguins need to accumulate considerable resources before this takes place, as they can lose up to four kilograms of body weight during the moult.


The coastal forests of their habitat, particularly of mainland New Zealand, have been destroyed to make way for development and agriculture. Introduced sheep and cattle pose a threat as they can trample on penguin nests and overgraze the area, destroying further habitat. Introduced ferrets and cats are major predators in the South Island. Predation by pigs on the main Auckland Islands is known to occur, but the impact is not known and could be significant.

Population crashes may be due to avian malaria or biotoxins, and food shortages due to sea temperature changes may also be a periodic problem. Disease appears to be a major problem in some populations in some years, with diptheritic stomatisis (infectious lesions in the mouth area that impede swallowing and cause respiratory troubles) and a Leucocytozoon blood parasite being major causes of mortality for chicks.

Conservation Measures

The New Zealand Department of Conservation Hoiho Recovery Plan is currently underway, which aims to promote the recovery of this species and to involve local people in their conservation. A number of schemes are already in place including the protection of certain key habitats and the removal of predators. The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust has introduced a number of important conservation initiatives and research, including the banning of dogs from certain sensitive beaches. Many mainland sites have been fenced to minimise trampling by farm stock. Predator trapping is intensive during the breeding season in several South Island sites, and habitat is being restored.


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