8 Types of Penguins found in New Zealand (2024)

What are the different kinds of penguins in New Zealand?

Types of penguins in New Zealand

It’s easy to see why people are fascinated with penguins. Besides their adorable looks, these birds are unlike any other in the world!

They’re flightless birds that love to swim, they stand upright instead of hunched over, and almost all of them live in the southern hemisphere.

Keep reading to learn about EVERY type of penguin that lives on the planet, including photos and range maps!

THE 8 PENGUIN species in New Zealand:

#1. Little Penguin

  • Eudyptula minor

Also known as Little Blue Penguins.

Types of penguins in New Zealand

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 30-33 cm (12-13 in) tall and weigh about 1.5kg (3.3 lb).
  • The head and back are blue, and the underside is white from chin to belly.
  • Their feet are pink with black soles and webbing.

Little Penguins are the only nocturnal penguin in New Zealand!

They prefer to complete all their activities at night, including hunting, moving, and socializing. Then, during the day, they rest in groups to protect themselves from predators.

Little Penguins live on the southern coast of Australia and throughout coastal New Zealand.

Little Penguins dive as deep as 80 m (265 ft) to find their preferred food, which includes krill, fish, and squid. However, they can only stay underwater for two minutes, which is short compared to other types of penguins. They also swim and walk along the shore in groups, an effective strategy to avoid predators.

Amazingly, Little Penguins have up to nine sounds they use to communicate with their colony. The sounds include sharp barking that announces it’s time to hunt and loud yelps, which signal trouble. Listen to a few sounds below!

YouTube video

Although Little Penguins do face an increased threat from introduced predators, they aren’t currently in danger of decline. They’re a species of Least Concern, meaning their populations are stable and healthy.

  • Estimated Global Population: 1.2 million individual penguins

#2. King Penguin

  • Aptenodytes patagonicus

Types of penguins in New Zealand

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 70-100 cm (28-39 in) tall and weigh 9.3-18 kg (21-40 lb).
  • Its coloring is dark on the back, wings, and legs, with bright yellow-orange plumage at the top of its chest and around each eye. The belly is white.
  • The wings are large and flipper-like, and the beak is long and straight.

The King Penguin is the second largest penguin in the world.

Many people confuse them with the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, because they appear somewhat similar.

King Penguins live throughout the Southern Ocean, with sightings in South America, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and various islands.

These athletic penguins are impressive in the water! They can swim at 6.5–10 kph (4–6 mph) and dive to depths of 100-300 m (350-1000 ft). In addition, they can stay underwater for up to five minutes.

Even though they’re agile swimmers, King Penguins must be vigilant because they’re a favorite food for many sea mammals. In particular, sea lions will chase these penguins right onto the beach!

YouTube video

Like many types of penguins, King Penguins are susceptible to loss of habitat because of climate change. Even though they are currently a species of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List, their population is expected to decline by up to 70% in the next eighty years.

  • Estimated Global Population: Between 2 and 3 million breeding pairs

#3. Yellow-eyed Penguin

  • Megadyptes antipodes

Types of penguins in New Zealand

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 62–79 cm (24–31 in) tall and weigh 3–8.5 kg (6.6–18.7 lb).
  • A band of pale yellow feathers covers the eyes and encircles the back of its head. The forehead and sides of the head are light brown, while the tail and back are navy blue or black. The abdomen, chest, thighs, and underside of the flippers are white.
  • As its name suggests, this penguin’s eyes are yellow.

This species is the rarest penguin in New Zealand!

The estimated worldwide population of Yellow-eyed Penguins is only about 4,000 birds. Unfortunately, they are susceptible to bacterial infections that kill hatchlings and chicks. As a result of these infections, small range, and other threats, Yellow-eyed Penguins are listed as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

Yellow-eyed Penguins are found in coastal New Zealand and on Auckland and Campbell Islands.

Unlike other species, Yellow-eyed Penguins are very private and prefer to nest in seclusion. They are almost always silent, only making a shrill call to warn others away from their breeding sites.

#4. Southern Rockhopper Penguin

  • Eudyptes chrysocome

Types of penguins in New Zealand

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 45–58 cm (18–23 in) tall and weigh 2–3.4 kg (4.4–7.5 lb).
  • Look for their straight, bright yellow eyebrows finishing in yellow plumes over a red eye.
  • The upper part of its body is solid gray, and the belly is white.

Southern Rockhoppers are the showiest penguins in New Zealand.

Just look at that yellow eyebrow and crown of feathers on its head. This species is ready for a party! 🙂

And its looks aren’t the only thing that sets the Southern Rockhopper apart. Many penguins avoid obstacles by sliding on their bellies or climbing using their flippers. However, this species jumps across cracks and boulders instead.

There are two subspecies of Southern Rockhopper Penguin. The western subspecies lives on the southern coast of South America, and the eastern subspecies lives on the southern coast of Australia.

These adaptable penguins also have complex hunting behaviors. They can travel in groups up to 57 km (35 mi) away from their colonies. They hunt for between 12 and 15 hours at a time, leaving the colony around dawn and returning at dusk.

It shouldn’t be surprising that Rockhopper Penguins are highly recognizable because of their looks. In addition, their breeding grounds are also popular tourist destinations!

Unfortunately, Rockhopper Penguins are also considered vulnerable to extinction because of their recent population decline. The threats against these penguins include competition from commercial fisheries and oil spills. However, several zoo breeding programs are leading efforts to help the species thrive.

  • Estimated Global Population: 1 million breeding pairs

#5. Fiordland Penguin

  • Eudyptes pachyrhynchus

Also known as the Fiordland Crested Penguin or the New Zealand Crested Penguin.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults reach 60 cm (24 in) tall and weigh 2-5.95 kg (4.4-13.1 lb).
  • Their coloring is bluish-grey with a darker head and white abdomen.
  • They have broad yellow “eyebrows” that extend over the eyes and down the neck.

The population of Fiordland Penguins is rapidly declining.

The main detriment to their numbers is introduced species in New Zealand like cats, dogs, and rats, which prey on adults and chicks. Unfortunately, human disturbance, habitat destruction, and pollution also play a role. Due to their small range and population, they are vulnerable to extinction, and their status on the IUCN Red List is Near Threatened.

Fiordland Penguins are found along the southwestern coast of New Zealand.

In addition to these threats, the reproductive habits of Fiordland Penguins in New Zealand don’t help its declining numbers. Although they build nests in protected and covered areas, their eggs and chicks are still very vulnerable to predators. Two eggs are laid, one bigger and one smaller. The smaller egg usually doesn’t hatch successfully.

And even if it does hatch, the mortality of that chick is much higher. The smaller chick usually dies because it can’t compete for food with its larger, healthier sibling.

  • Estimated Global Population: Less than 2,000 individuals

#6. Snares Penguin

  • Eudyptes robustus

Also known as the Snares Crested Penguin or Snares Islands Penguin.

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 50-70 cm (20-28 in) long and weigh 2.5-4 kg (5.5-6.8 lb).
  • Their coloring is dark blue or black on the upper parts of the body and white underneath.
  • They have a bright yellow crest above the eyes and a brownish-red bill.

The Snares Penguin is named for its breeding place – the Snares Islands in southern New Zealand. Almost all the research on this species was done here, but they have also been spotted in southern Australia, Tasmania, the Chatham Islands, and southern New Zealand.

Snares Penguins live and breed exclusively on Snares Island to the south of New Zealand.

Snares Penguins eat krill, small fish, and cephalopods. They also have several natural predators, including leopard seals and sea lions. In addition, the eggs and chicks are vulnerable to petrels and skuas, native seabirds in the area.

Like other types of penguins, Snares Penguin parents take turns incubating their eggs while the other parent goes out to forage for food. First, the male takes a trip, then he comes back and lets the female go hunt. The eggs are ready to hatch as the mother returns, and the parents share the responsibility of raising their young.

Unfortunately, Snares Penguins are considered a Vulnerable Species on the IUCN Red List. This is due to their relatively small range, which makes them susceptible to single threats like an oil spill or reduction in food resources.

  • Estimated Global Population: 25,000 breeding pairs

#7. Royal Penguin

  • Eudyptes schlegeli

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 65–76 cm (26–30 in) tall and weigh 3–8 kg (6.6–17.6 lb).
  • They have black and dark gray backs, heads, and wings.
  • Their faces and chins are white, with yellow eyebrows and large orange beaks.

The Royal Penguin is a social species, so they often cohabitate with other colonies, especially while hunting. This behavior helps to eliminate competition for resources and offers protection from predators. They eat krill, small fish, and squid.

Royal Penguins are found almost exclusively on Macquarie Island in the Southern Ocean.

These penguins have an unusual breeding habit that experts can’t explain. The female lays two eggs but almost always abandons the first egg a day before the second egg arrives, reducing the chances of the first one hatching. The chosen egg is kept warm by both parents.

After hatching, the male takes care of the chicks for two to three weeks while the female hunts. If the female doesn’t return with food, the chick usually doesn’t survive.

Royal Penguins are considered a vulnerable species due to habitat loss, climate change, and predation. In the past, this species was hunted for its oil, which caused a drop in population.

  • Estimated Global Population: 850,000 breeding pairs

#8. Erect-crested Penguin

  • Eudyptes sclateri

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Adults are 50-70 cm (20-28 in) tall and weigh 2.5-6 kg (5.5-13.2 lbs).
  • Their coloring is bluish-black on top with white underparts.
  • A large, bright yellow stripe on the head extends over the eye to form a brush-like crest.

Erect-crested Penguins are the least-studied penguins in New Zealand. However, we do know some information about their hunting and breeding habits.

For example, this species commonly scrapes krill off the underside of the ice. Although they don’t have teeth, these penguins have a sharp blade-like bill to help with the task. They also eat squid and small fish.

Erect-crested Penguins live on the eastern coast of New Zealand and the surrounding islands.

Erect-crested Penguins have very specific breeding habits that sometimes hurt their survival chances. They nest in rocky terrain, often on precarious ledges. Unfortunately, the eggs can roll out of the nest easily. Increased fighting and low breeding success also hurt this species’ population.

As you might expect, Erect-crested Penguins are endangered. Their population has drastically declined over the last 30 years, and their breeding range is limited only to two locations.

  • Estimated Global Population: 30,000 breeding pairs

Do you want to know more about penguins in New Zealand?

Which type of penguin in New Zealand is your favorite?

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