How Nature does Halloween: the Fairy Penguin

Step aside Fairy Godmother! The smallest of them all is conquering with cuteness this Halloween: it’s the Fairy Penguin!fairy-penguin

The Fairy Penguin (also known as Blue, Little Blue, and just Little Penguin) is found along the southern coast of Australia, New Zealand (Māori call them kororā), and have been sighted in Chile where they are called Pingüino pequeño.

little_penguin_rangeStanding only 12-13 inches tall (1 ft, 33 cm) and weighing 3 pounds (1.5 kg), these penguins are the smallest in the world. Unlike the iconic tuxedo look of other penguins, fairy penguins don a little blue dress with plumage that is slate-blue in color fading to a white underside.

curious-baby-blue-penguin

Swimming, sleeping, and snacking take up their days at sea; night will find fairy penguins holed up in their nests. These nests are made in underground burrows (made by the penguins or other animals), little caves, crevasses, or pretty much any small protected area near the beach.

burrowMated pairs are monogamous during the mating season, but not for life, and both parents share responsibility for rearing the chick(s).

resizedimage600229-penguin-calendar-hiresWhen fairy penguin’s little ones are born varies from year-to-year and colony-to-colony since breeding is dependent on food supply. However, males typically start searching for and building nests in June to August. Fairy penguins are the only penguin species that can lay multiple clutches of eggs in a breeding season, but they rarely do. One or two eggs are laid between July and December, depending on the location of the colony, and chicks hatch about 5 weeks later. Females mature at 2 years old and males mature at 3.

chick

baby fairy penguin molting – shedding it’s “baby fluff”

Food staples include small fish (like anchovies and sardines), squid, and krill. The penguins typically hunt near the surface, with half of their dives less than 6 feet (about 2 meters) deep, but they are able to dive to a depth of 20 meters (60 feet). After spending the day hunting, the penguins return to the beach in small groups. Numbers and darkness provide these small birds protection at their most vulnerable state…

Port Campbell, Victoria, Australia

Port Campbell, Victoria, Australia.    http://www.natgeocreative.com/photography/1231837

Most Fairy Penguin populations are not listed as endangered, but they have been declining in recent years. These little penguins are most vulnerable when they are on land. Cats, dogs, foxes, ferrets, rats, and large reptiles can decimate a colony in a matter of nights. At sea, fur seals and white-bellied sea eagles have been known to snack on Fairy Penguins. Because of predation, most of today’s colonies are located on isolated islands with no cat, fox, or dog presence. Of course humans are a threat to these little guys as well. Fairy Penguins can become entangled in fishing line and fishing nets, mistake plastic debris for food, get in the way *rolls eyes* of human development, and foolishly take a dip in oil spills. Luckily, Fairy Penguins are cute and charismatic, the perfect candidate for conservation campaigns!

penguin_1696172i

A bird rescue volunteer walks a recovering fairy penguin, ‘Hop Along’.

Fun Facts:

  1. Fairy penguins are the only penguins who have blue feathers instead of black.
  2. Waddling is the most efficient way for penguins to move on land.
  3. Fairy penguins live within 40 meters (130 feet) of where they were born.
  4. A salt gland above their eyes filters salt water to provide penguins with fresh water.
  5. Philip’s Island fairy penguins swim 9-31 miles per day (15-50 km).
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