The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor) is known in Māori as kororā and is a Tāoka (Treasured) Species for Kai Tahu and a protected native species. The Little Penguin in New Zealand is locally known as the Little Blue Penguin (Kororā).

Penguin Life Cycle

The kororā, (Little Blue Penguin) found here at Takiharuru-Pilots Beach breeds on the New Zealand and Australian mainland and islands.

  • Kororā are the world’s smallest penguin at 25-45cm in height
  • They weigh around one kilo on average.
  • The average age of kororā in our colony is seven years, but the oldest recorded was 25 years.
  • There are around 600,000 kororā in the world today, and the numbers living in New Zealand are in decline.

Takiharuru-Pilots Beach is one of the main kororā breeding areas in mainland Otago.

Breeding

  • Breeding usually begins at 2-3 years of age.
  • Kororā normally form long-term pair bonds.
  • Breeding in this colony is from May to February.
  • Most pairs 'double 'clutch producing four offspring per year.
  • The parents share the incubation of the usual two eggs for 35 days.
  • The guard stage lasts 3 weeks, with one parent remaining with the chicks. At three weeks, the food demand of the chicks requires both parents to go to sea to keep up with the demand for fish.
  • When the chicks moult their downy baby feathers for waterproof ones, they stop eating and hide away. They are at their most vulnerable at this time as they cannot float or swim.
  • Chicks grow very fast. They gain adult weight by 4-5 weeks.
  • Chicks usually leave the nest at 8 weeks and from then on they are independent.

Habitat

Kororā are very faithful to their home site, generally returning to within metres of where they were born to set up their own nests, and never move away. Our colony size continues to increase in response to the conservation work undertaken by The Pukekura Trust.

Kororā make their nests by digging a burrow into soil, sand or by finding a crevice amongst the rocks, they will also make use of any man-made cavity. They are often found near human habitation, nesting under buildings, stacks of timber or even railway tracks!

  • Nests have been found up to 2 km inland and 300m above sea level!
  • Kororā venture ashore mainly to breed and moult, being only active on land at night under the cover of darkness.
  • Kororā leave the colony before sunrise and return to the colony after dark. During the day, if not at sea, they stay hidden inside their nests.

Kororā (Little Blue Penguin) at Sea

The kororā’s wings have turned to flippers and their short feathers have become a waterproof coat. On the surface they use their webbed feet to swim and to drive themselves along, but at speed underwater they ‘fly’ along with their flippers.

  • On the ocean surface only their backs and heads are out of the water.
  • They can dive to 60 metres to catch squid, octopus and small fish.
  • They usually feed within 25km of the coast, traveling up to 75km daily!
  • Each dive lasts about 20 seconds, often rounding up a shoal of fish before snapping one up.
  • The Southland Current which flows north-east along the Continental Shelf off the coast of Pukekura brings an abundance of octopus and other small sea creatures on which the Little Blues love to feast!
  • Kororā are known to spend weeks at a time at sea and sleeping on the water!

Predators

Predators of kororā at sea are sharks, sea-lions and leopard seals. The dark blue feathers on penguin’s backs help them to hide when predators look down into the dark water. The white feathers on their bellies merge them with the water as underwater predators look up.

Land based predators to kororā include mustelids (stoats, ferrets and weasels), rats, wild cats, dogs and Skua (large Gulls). Here on Pukekura, an extensive effort to control pests and threats to penguins is being made.

Penguins are under threat from man as well. Pollution, climate change and over-fishing have all had a major impact on Penguins worldwide.

Vocalisations

Kororā (Little Blue Penguin) are very vocal; they have a range of calls which serve many purposes. To recognise each other or claim and defend territory they have a braying call. As they come ashore they quack, this keeps the group of penguins together and may alert the birds ashore of their return.

History

Little Penguin fossilised bones have been dated to over 100,000 years! Southland fossil records show that 45 million years ago New Zealand had giant penguins which stood about 2 metres high. As well as the kororā (Little Blue Penguin), 12 other penguin species swim off the New Zealand coast.

If you find a ragged, sick looking penguin wandering about in summer, don’t encourage them back into the sea — they might just sink. Phone the department of conservation or SPCA to seek further specialist advice.