- Blue penguins are the world’s smallest penguin, standing 35-40 cm high, and weighing a little over 1 kg.
- The penguins are a slately blue colour with a white chest. The distinctive white-flippered variety, found around Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island, Canterbury, has more white on the top side of the flipper than the other forms.
- The taxonomy of blue penguins has been debated for many years. The Department of Conservation presently recognised four subspecies; all are potentially associated with plantation forests:
- Chatham Island blue penguin Eudyptula minor chathamensis, classified as At Risk: Naturally Uncommon, found on the Chatham Islands shoreline.
- Northern blue penguin Eudyptula minor iredalei, classified as At Risk: Declining, found on the coast throughout much of the North Island.
- Southern blue penguin Eudyptula minor minor, classified as At Risk: Declining, found on the shoreline throughout southern New Zealand.
- White-flippered blue penguin Eudyptula minor albosignata, classified as At Risk: Declining, found on the shoreline around Banks Peninsula and Motunau Island.
- Recent genetic research has shown that the Australian fairy penguin Eudyptula novaehollandiae colonised the Otago and south Canterbury coastline in the last 500 years. Blue penguins are now very uncommon in this region. The fairy penguin is classified as At Risk-Recovering.
- The white-flippered penguin is endemic to northern Canterbury.
- Blue penguins nest in burrows, cavities, or under tree roots that are usually beneath overhead cover. The nesting area is often visited throughout the year.
- Other species of penguins (all threatened) can visit coastal sites to moult in late summer-autumn.
- Blue penguins are very faithful to their nesting area and will return throughout their lives. Chicks also usually return to the area where they were raised.
- The penguins are very vocal when they return to their nesting area at night, usually just after dusk.
- Blue penguins usually nest in widely-spaced colonies close to the shore. Birds, however, will also nest up to 500 m inland, and up to 200 m asl. Birds have occasionally been seen at the top of Kapiti Island at 550 m asl.
- Populations can undergo severe declines, thought to be a result of marine food shortages or biotoxins.
Association with Plantations
- Coastal forests may have coastal birds on forest margins.
- Blue penguins can nest under pines.
- Human disturbance including vehicle and foot damage to nests and general interference.
- Predation, especially during nesting by mammalian pests, including uncontrolled dogs, which can decimate penguin colonies in a matter of days.
- Invasive plants like marram grass, lupins and wilding pines, can degrade nesting areas.
Management Options and Methods
- Minimise disturbance to nesting sites.
- Consider restricting or minimising vehicle access to important nesting sites.
- Consider removing invasive plants from dunes.
- Work with local community groups, DOC and councils to improve overall protection of important nesting colonies. This could include community education, plant and animal pest control or specific species requirements like provision of penguin nest houses.
- Injured or dead coastal birds (all species):
- Place injured birds in a cardboard box in the shade and deliver to a local vet, SPCA, or DOC.
- Call DOC if bird is banded.
- Increase staff and contractor knowledge about blue penguins.
- Consider monitoring important nesting sites. This could include penguin counts at dusk or dawn when the birds and leaving or entering the sea to feed, burrow counts, and chick survival rates.
Further Information and Support
- New Zealand Birds Online website
- Heather and Robertson (2000). The field guide to the birds of New Zealand.
- Pest management: DOC, Regional Councils.
- Local community initiatives: NZ Landcare Trust.