Description & Characteristics:
The seclusive Fjordland crested penguin can be found along the shores of deeply indented bays (fjords) on the southern and southwestern coasts of New Zealand. Breeding in rugged coastal rainforests they nest
individually, or in loose colonies, close to the water. Easily disturbed by humans, their population appears to be decreasing as a result of chick predation by introduced species such as dogs, cats, ferrets, and stoats.
Fjordland crested penguins have yellow crests which originate close to the bills and sweep back like eyebrows drooping down to the back of the head. The black cheek feathers often part to expose their blue pale bases, giving them a striped or mottled effect. The head, throat and upperparts are black and underparts are white. The Fjordland crested penguin is easily confused with the Snares Island penguin and the Erect-crested penguin. A few key features, however, will aid in identification while they are on land, at least. Fjordland crested penguins and Snares Island penguins have similar crests, but Snares Island penguins typically have pink skin patches directly behind the bill; Fjordland penguins do not. Unlike the Erect-crested penguin, only the most hind portions of the Fjordland crests appear erect.
Fjordland penguins nest in loose communities under bushes, in rocky crevices or among tree roots, close to but out of sight of each other. The males return to the breeding sites in June (mid winter), usually to the site of last year’s nest. The female follows shortly after and two eggs are laid in July. The eggs are incubated for 30 to 36 days with the parents taking turns on the nest (in long 5 to 12 day shifts) while the other goes out to sea to feed.
As is the case with many penguin species, the first egg usually fails to hatch, and even if both chicks do hatch, the smaller chick from the first egg is often unable to compete for food, dying of starvation within a short time. Scientists think this genetic trait has evolved as a means of ensuring at least one healthy offspring. The surviving chick is then guarded by the male and fed by the female for the first few weeks of life. After this, both parents feed the chick, taking turns hunting for food. Wandering chicks may often ‘creche’ (form groups) with other chicks if they are nearby, but they will return to the nest to be fed. Chicks fledge (replacing their grayish down feathers with adult feathers) in November, when they are ten weeks old and are now able to swim and find food on their own. They will return to their home colonies to breed at around five years of age.
Natural predators of Fjordland crested penguins include Fur seals and some large fish species.