Description & Characteristics:
Fairy penguins are only found in the Southern Hemisphere preferring the warmer waters along the shores of Southern Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. They are the smallest of all the penguins. Some scientists recognize the Fairy penguin as one of two subspecies of Little Penguin; with the White-flippered penguin now being considered the second subspecies. Other scientists believe the White-flippered penguins to be the eighteenth penguin species.
Fairy penguins are also called ‘Little Blues’ because of the indigo-blue and slate-gray color of their feathers. The White-flippered penguins are distinguished by having a white stripe around the edges of their flippers.
Fairy penguins spend their days out at sea hunting for food in the shallow waters close to the shore. They can often be seen congregating in groups, referred to as ‘rafts’. At dusk they return to their burrows or rock crevice colonies, which can be quite noisy especially before their pre-dawn departure back to sea to feed. Since they feed so near to shore they are easy to see from land. Most of their food is caught on shallow dives to depths less than 30 feet but they will sometimes dive to the seabed in search of prey species. They eat small fish such as anchovies, squid, plankton, krill, small octopi and pilchards. From the seafloor they may eat crab larvae, sea horses and crustaceans. Like most penguins, they swallow their food whole.
Female Fairy penguins arrive in June to the breeding colonies and are met by raucous males who perform complicated courting displays. Peak egg laying time is generally June through August. They will lay two eggs at a time which take approximately five weeks to hatch. Depending on the availability of food supplies, Fairies may have one, two, or even three broods (clutches) in a season. Nests are usually located in sheltered rock crevices but where these are not available they dig long burrows instead. Most Fairy penguins mate for life with both males and females incubating the eggs and caring for the young.
Throughout their first three weeks the chicks are attended to constantly. Over the next five weeks adults visit them only to feed them regurgitated food. After this period, the young fledglings are then forced from the nest. They naturally know how to swim and are able to fish and fend for themselves.
There are many threats to the survival of these penguins both natural and man made. They face predators at sea such as: sharks, seals (Lion, Leopard, and Fur), Killer whales and predators on land such as: Sea Eagles and large Gulls. Man-made hazards include: oil spills, plastic, road kills, gill net fishing and loss of breeding habitats.