Description & Characteristics:
The seclusive Snares Island penguin inhabits and breeds along the sheltered, forested beaches of the Snares Islands, off the southern coast of New Zealand. Members of the crested penguin group (Genus Eudyptes), which also includes: Rockhopper penguins, Fjordland Penguins, Macaroni Penguins, Erect-crested Penguins, and Royal penguins, Snares Island penguins are considered a very vulnerable species. The low numbers and limited breeding areas of this non-migratory species make them susceptible to a variety of natural and human disturbances. The New Zealand government has undertaken significant efforts to protect and preserve both Snares Island habitats and marine feeding grounds.
Also called the Snares-crested penguins, Snares Island penguins have a broad crest extending from the beak to the back of the head. They have a thicker, heavier bill which is underlined with white skin. They have broad crests growing from the beak around to the back of the head. It can be somewhat difficult to distinguish the Snares Island penguins from some of the other crested penguins, especially while they are at sea. Snares Island penguins do not have the white cheek feathers found on the Fjordland crested penguins. Also, their crests are not as erect as those of the Erect-crested penguins and less elaborate than those of the Rockhopper penguins. Male and female ‘Snares’ are monomorphic and it can be difficult to differentiate the sexes without behavioral clues.
These Penguins eat a variety fish, squid and krill which populate the warm waters of Southern New Zealand. As most penguin species do, they feed by shallow pursuit diving, using their webbed feet and strong flippers to propel them through the water at speeds up to 15 miles per hour.
Breeding season for Snares Island penguins begins in early summer and there is often much fighting and jockeying for territory and resources within the colonies. Preferring forest or shaded vegetation, mated pairs scrape out shallow holes in the ground which they line with grasses, leaves, twigs, and branches. Once the nest is prepared, the female Snares will proceed to lay two eggs; however, the first egg often fails to hatch. The remaining egg is then incubated for one to two months with each parent taking several long shifts. Once the egg hatches the male broods and cares for the chick for three weeks at which time he will join the female on foraging trips. For protection, the young chicks will join with other chicks to form a ‘crèche’ or nursery group while they wait for their parents to return with food. Both parents feed the chick daily until has molted (usually in about 75 days) and is able to provide for itself.