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Facts about Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki

Fiordland crested penguin pair. Photo: Paddy Ryan.
Fiordland crested penguin pair

Where are they found?

The tawaki is one of three penguin species that breed on the New Zealand mainland. Its breeding range extends along coastlines south of Bruce Bay in South Westland, to Fiordland and the islands of Foveaux Strait and Stewart Island. Immature Fiordland crested penguins that moult in summer and early autumn sometimes straggle around the east coast of the South Island, where the species was once common. Some non-breeding birds and juveniles have also been recorded in the Chatham Islands, the subantarctic islands and the Australian coast from New South Wales to Western Australia.

The current population is between 2500 and 3000 breeding pairs and has been in decline since the 1950s. A slight warming of sea temperatures in the past 50 years is thought to have had an effect on the distribution of food species and a subsequent impact on several penguin species.

Where can you see tawaki?

The most accessible place to see tawaki is at Munro Beach, near Lake Moeraki 30 kilometres north of Haast. A walking track leads from Lake Moeraki to the beach, and guided tours are conducted from the Lake Moeraki Wilderness Lodge. Tawaki can also be seen in Milford Sound and at Jackson Bay.

The best time of year to see tawaki is during the breeding season from July to November. They may also occasionally be seen during the moulting season from mid-January to early March.

Tawaki are very timid, so do not approach birds, nests or areas of beach where penguin tracks are common. Do not bring dogs close to penguin nesting areas.

Tawaki facts

Fiordland crested penguin. Photo: Paddy Ryan.
Fiordland crested penguin

  • During the nesting season in South Westland and Fiordland, the tawaki’s main diet is juvenile squid, octopus, krill and small fish.
  • Tawaki are monogamous and often mate for life. Although the pairs separate when not breeding, females return each year to the same beach in search of their mate from the previous season.
  • Tawaki reach breeding maturity at about five or six years. They nest individually or in small, loose colonies between July and December. Nest sites are close to the coast in caves, under overhangs, at the base of trees or in dense vegetation.
  • Females lay two white eggs by the end of August. The first egg is generally smaller than the second, and both are incubated for 30–35 days. Most first eggs fail to hatch, or the chicks die of starvation within ten days of hatching. Tawaki cannot raise more than one chick per season, and the first egg is thought to be an insurance policy in case the second egg does not survive.
  • Chicks are brooded by the male, who goes without food for the first three weeks. The chicks then form creches and are fed by both parents until they become independent and leave the colony in late November or early December.
  • Like other birds, penguins do not have teeth. Tawaki and other penguins instead have fleshy, backwards pointing spines on their tongue to hold slippery prey, which is swallowed whole without chewing.

Did you know?

Penguins are one of the few birds in the world that moult all of their feathers simultaneously. The moulting takes about two weeks and is very stressful to the birds. They cannot enter the sea during this period as they don’t have their waterproof, insulating coat. As a result, birds do not feed and may lose up to half of their body weight during moulting. They are also highly vulnerable to predators at this time.


For more information about the Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki contact:

Awarua / Haast Visitor Centre
Phone:      +64 3 750 0809
Address:   Haast Junction
Corner SH6 and Jackson Bay Road
South Westland
Full office details

Related link

Fiordland crested penguin/tawaki factsheet (PDF, 1700K)

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