About little penguins

About little penguins



Penguin Facts 

  • General penguin facts
  • Yearly penguin cycle
  • Penguin breeding
  • Penguins on land
  • Penguins at sea

  • General penguin facts 

    What type of animal are penguins?
    Penguins are seabirds that don't fly. They have a beak, feathers and lay eggs. Penguins have modified wings called flippers that they use for swimming in the ocean.

    How many species of penguins are there?
    Around the world there are 17 species of penguins. All penguins are found in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, sub-Antarctic islands, South America and Africa).

    "Little penguins are only found in southern Australia and New Zealand."

    Why do penguins waddle?
    Waddling is the most efficient form of movement for penguins. Little legs and big feet make movement awkward on land but waddling helps by raising a penguin's centre of mass, allowing the penguin to swing its body forward.

    How big are little penguins?
    Little penguins are the smallest penguin in the world at only 33cm (13in) tall and one kilogram (2.2 lbs).

    Little penguin Phillip Island

    Where can I find a little penguin?

    Little penguins are only found in southern Australia and New Zealand. In Australia little penguin colonies are scattered around the coastline from near Perth on the west coast, to Sydney on the east coast, and around Tasmania.

    Phillip Island has only one remaining little penguin colony, part of which can be seen at the Penguin Parade which offers up-close views of little penguins

    How many little penguins are there?
    Phillip Island is home to an estimated 32,000 little penguins. Current estimates put the total little penguin population at one million.

    How do you tell the difference between male and female little penguins?
    It's all in the beak! Adult females have a thinner beak than males. Males have a distinct hook on the end of their beak.


    Yearly penguin cycle 

    Yearly penguin calendar


    Penguin breeding 

    "Little penguins have an annual divorce rate between 18 and 50%."

    Little penguins do not mate for life. If breeding success is low, penguins may look for a new mate. Researchers from Phillip Island Nature Parks have recorded an annual divorce rate for little penguins of between 18 and 50%.



    Penguins on land 

    On land little penguins live in holes in the ground known as burrows. These burrows provide a place for little penguins to rest, nest and moult. Burrows also provide protection from predators and extreme heat.

    While on land little penguins remain inside their burrows during the day to avoid predators.
    Penguin Phillip Island

    Penguins on land Phillip Island
    Image: D Parer and E. Parer-Cook

    "Burrows provide a place for little penguins to rest, nest and moult."

    How much time do little penguins spend on land?
    Depending on the season, a little penguin may spend between one day and one month at sea. When little penguins are breeding they will regularly return to incubate the eggs and feed their chicks. During winter little penguins spend more time at sea chasing fish and only return to rest and renovate their burrows.

    Why do little penguins only cross the beach at sunset?
    When returning to land little penguins will only cross the beach at sunset. Crossing the beach in darkness provides protection against potential predators.

    Do little penguins migrate?
    Little penguins usually remain in the same colony their whole lives. They typically retun to within 40 metres of the area they were born. Little penguins find their burrows by looking for familiar landmarks.

    Penguin moulting

    Why do penguins moult?

    Every year little penguins grow a new set of   feathers in a process known as moulting.  New, clean feathers are important for keeping penguins waterproof throughout the year.

    Little penguins usually moult sometime between February and April. The moulting process takes up to 17 days during which time little penguins are not waterproof and must remain on land. Before moulting, penguins eat lots of fish to survive the time they must spend on land.


    Penguins at sea 

    Penguins have many adaptations for a life at sea, including:

  • Modified wings called flippers to 'fly' through the water
  • A gland to spread an oil like sustance over their feathers when preening to help keep them waterproof
  • A streamlined shape
  • Waterproof feathers (outer layer)
  • A layer of down next to their skin to trap air and keep them warm
  • A salt gland above their eyes to filter salt from seawater, providing penguins with freshwater.
  • Swimming little penguin

    Image: D. Parer and E. Parer-Cook

    It's not all black and white:
    Adult little penguins are the only penguins in the world with blue and white feathers instead of black and white feathers.

    The dark back of penguins blends in with the water to camouflage against anything flying or swimming overhead, and the light stomach blends in with the sky to camouflage against anything swimming underneath.

    How far can a penguin swim?
    Researchers use satellite and GPS trackers to record where penguins go at sea. Satellite tracking from Phillip Island Nature Parks shows that Phillip Island's little penguins swim an average 15 to 50 kilometres (9-31 miles) a day. This includes diving up an down as they look for fish. Little penguins swim at an average speed of 2-4 km/hr.

    "The deepest little penguin dive recorded was 72 meters."

    How deep can a little penguin dive?
    The deepest little penguin dive recorded is 72 meters. An average dive in search of fish is between 5 and 20 metres.

    "The longest little penguin dive recorded
    was 1 minute 56 seconds."

    What do little penguins eat?
    Little penguins must go to sea to find food, preferring to eat fish such as pilchards, anchovies, warehou, red cod and barracouta and a small quantity of squid.

    Discover more about penguins with our handy penguin facts guide or download the Little Penguin Q & A prepared by the education team at Phillip Island Nature Parks.