Little penguin/kororā
Image: Shellie Evans ©

Introduction

The world’s smallest penguin – little penguin (also known as little blue penguin) – is just over 25 cm tall and weighs around 1 kg.

Highlights

New Zealand status: Native
Conservation: At Risk–Declining
Threats: Dogs, predation, road kills

Species information: Little penguin on NZ Birds Online

Little penguin/kororā conservation

Declining populations

Little penguins were common in New Zealand, but most are now on offshore islands where there is less disturbance.

Did you know?

Their paddle-like flippers are excellent for ‘flying’ through the water at speeds of up to 6 km/h.

Their population and range of has been declining in areas not protected from predators. Where predator control is in place, populations have been stable or increasing.

Dogs are likely the greatest threat to little penguin. Cats, ferrets and stoats will also kill them.

These threats have increased with more coastal development bringing more dogs and the clearance of traditional nesting sites.

Little penguins are also killed crossing coastal roads, being hit by boats, or caught in set nets.

Why they come ashore

Adult birds come ashore between May and June to prepare nests. They may waddle up to 1.5 km from the sea, and climb 300 m to find the perfect nest site.

Traditional nests are in underground burrows, under vegetation, in crevices, between rocks or in caves. Since people came onto the coastal scene, little penguins have also taken to nesting under houses and boat sheds, in stormwater pipes, and stacks of timber.

Adults also come ashore to shed their feathers and grow a new waterproof coat. This moult period lasts about two weeks and can happen any time between November and March. The penguins are especially vulnerable at this time as they cannot swim.

Where to spot penguins

By day little penguins are out at sea, fishing and feeding, or in their burrows roosting, moulting or tending eggs or chicks. They are more likely to be seen in sheltered harbours and inlets where they may be spotted from a boat.

They are rarely seen on land, and generally only come ashore under the cover of darkness.

You may join an organised tour to see little penguins at Oamaru, Taiaroa Head, and recognised observation spots at other coastal sites.

From May to June, when birds are pairing up and sorting out nests, they are very noisy. You can sometimes hear them if you visit the coast just after dusk.

Many penguins in Wellington harbour have been banded, providing valuable information about their movements and lifespan. We now know that birds do not often move far from home. When ready to breed, many young animals settle just metres from where they themselves were raised. And once settled in an area, they seldom move away.

Protection and research

Little penguins are protected by the Wildlife Act, which is administered by DOC.

DOC has helped community groups by fencing off areas and providing nest boxes for penguins.

A research project was carried out as part of the National Marine Reserves Monitoring and Reporting programme, funded by DOC's partnership with Air New Zealand. Read the Little penguin behaviour and ecoystem health factsheet (PDF, 8,530K)

You can help

Keep our penguins safe

  • Leave penguins alone. Usually scruffy birds are simply moulting.
  • Put your dog on a leash around penguin areas.
  • Keep your dog away from nests, and warn others nearby of the location.
  • Donate your time or money to help penguin protection groups, such as the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust and Forest & Bird.

Download a flyer (PDF, 1,170K) or bumper sticker (PDF, 288K).

Help penguins at your place

People and penguins like to live in the same places – prime coastal habitat – and penguins still try to live with people.

But what if you don’t want noisy penguins nesting under your house?

  • Little penguins often return to where they hatched. In late March to April (before the breeding season), you should block up access points under your house.
  • Check you haven’t blocked a bird in, or separated a parent from its chicks. It is risky to block penguins’ access while they are nesting or moulting (from May to early March), as you may trap birds under the house. Also, by sealing them out, you may expose a moulting bird to predators.
  • Consider providing a nest box elsewhere on your section.

Build a nest box

Little penguin/kororā and nest box.
Little penguin/kororā and nest box

The Nest box design (PDF, 152K) has been successfully used where suitable nest sites have not been available, or to relocate birds evicted from their chosen nest site (eg removed from under houses).

Penguins readily adopt the boxes, in some cases being occupied just a few hours after being placed!

They prefer nest boxes over natural sites, and breeding success in the boxes has been equal or higher than that observed at natural sites.

  • Boxes are designed to be partially or completely buried, however they can be used as free-standing units.
  • Place boxes with the tunnel entrances pointing slightly downhill (for drainage) and around 2 m apart.
  • If the lid is left accessible for easy inspection, secure firmly with a large rock as penguins may dislodge it during courtship or territorial defence.
  • If regular inspections are not required, nail or screw the lid down.
  • Do not provide nesting material, the penguins will find their own. Materials like hay or straw can cause respiratory infections.

Places for Penguins project

If you're in Wellington, you can help little penguin through the Places for Penguins project.

Emergency hotline

Call 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468) immediately if you see anyone catching, harming or killing native wildlife. 

Help protect our native birds

When visiting parks, beaches, rivers, and lakes
  • Only take dogs to areas that allow them, and keep them under control.
  • Check for pests when visiting pest-free islands.
  • Leave nesting birds alone.
  • Use available access ways to get to the beach. 
  • Avoid leaving old fishing lines on beaches or in the sea.
  • Follow the water care code and local navigation bylaws.
  • Don't drive on riverbeds, or keep to formed tracks if you have to.
Other ways to help
  • Get your dog trained in avian awareness.
  • Volunteer to control predators and restore bird habitats.
  • Set predator traps on our property.
  • Put a bell on your cat's collar, feed it well, and keep it indoors at dusk/dawn and at night.

Little Blue Penguin bumper sticker

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