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19 April 2020

Blues News from Pilots Beach

Blue Penguins - Blues News from Pilots Beach

By Hiltrun Ratz

Blues News from Pilots Beach

By Hiltrun Ratz

Week ending 19 April 2020


Pre-moult adults are still coming back to start their moult now. These are either parents that fledged or abandoned their second brood or really late juveniles. About one in five chicks fledged in the 2018 season (51 of 269) have been recorded back in the colony this season, and 28 of these were found during the moult. As they are juveniles they could be moulting anywhere: under bushes, in rabbit burrows, under the platform or walkway and there were likely more than 28 moulting in the colony.


The ODT published an article on 31 March 2020 about the heaviest chick ever at Pilots Beach The parents of this chick have come back this week (15 April) for their annual moult, a mere 24 days after their chicks fledged – and they are looking very chunky themselves.


On Friday 10 April, the ODT reporter came out to Pilots Beach for a story about the feeding of starving chicks at Pilots Beach during lockdown and the article came out on 13 April 2020


Not all penguins are moulting. Some are long done and are already thinking about the next breeding season, as evident in this nest box.

The pair has obviously tried to drag a whole lot of cabbage tree leaves into the entrance and have succeeded with some.

Supplementary feeding and rehab – good news and bad news.


First the bad news:

One of the returned chicks has died. It had fledged while still wearing some down, and I found it on the beach very thin and with an eye infection. Despite treating it with anitbiotics, the chick never really recovered and continued to vomit and refuse food. It died after 9 days, aged 80 days. I had been feeding it since it was 24 days old and weighed 300g. It is now pushing up a cabbage tree in the colony.

Now the good news:

The larger chick from A22 appeared to have left. It had taken up the habit of going for a swim in the morning and then sit in a box – either on the foreshore or in its home box deep in the colony – waiting for salmon to be delivered. It was quite the lifestyle: on Thursday it weighed 950g and maybe it was time for a change. I carried it – again – to the box on the foreshore and didn’t check there or in its home box until Sunday: it was gone. About time too, as it was 80 days old.


The smaller of the A14 chicks was gone on Wednesday (aged 73 days old) and I was so pleased, but found it wet and bedraggled on the foreshore later the same day. By Friday it was very difficult to feed and still a good weight, so I took it to the foreshore and when I checked on Sunday it, too was gone.


Fingers crossed, neither decides to come back.


The B16 chick was abandoned as a tiny chick and I started feeding it on 28 February when it weighed only 340g. On 11 March its pre-moult father showed up. The chick was only 41 days old (below left). It is now 80 days old and is finally looking like a real penguin, albeit slightly grubby one (below right). It still has some down and weighed 750g on Wednesday.

Left: B16 chick with pre-moult father on 11 March 2020.

Right: B16 chick with adult feather on 19 April 2020 aged 80 days – still not quite ready.

I decided to put it with the others into the rehab cage because on Wednesday I had seen the same black kitten with white paws again that I had seen near the platform the previous week. I initially blocked the entrance into B16 to keep the chick safe, but then thought the company in the rehab cage would be good for it. So it is now there.


I had thought that this kitten had moved away again, as I had seen one very similar near the golf course in the same week last week. On Wednesday I managed to get this blobby image of the same kitten and on my way home saw its “twin” again near the turnoff to the Otakou turn-off. There must be two!

Left: kitten in the grass – near the platform south of the access path.

Right: cropped to the black blob that is the kitten in the grass


Most of the penguins are out and about in their cage when I pull up in the morning.


Cautiously optimistic news is from this chick from the A40 box. I had picked it up from the beach 11 days after it fledged all by itself. It was very thin and both eyes were badly infected. I have treated it since 9 April with antibiotics and so far it is not only alive but the eyes appear to be getting better.

Left: right eye 8 April

Right: right eye on 19 April. It still has very limited vision here, but it’s getting better.

Left: left eye 8 April

Right: left eye on 19 April


And then there was the surprise of the week – also on Wednesday:

A small kitten was in a penguin box inside the rehab cage. There are really only two options as to how he got there: he either managed to squeeze through the cyclone fence – considering how wobbly and uncoordinated he still is, I think this is unlikely. The other option is that someone put him in the cage with the penguins thinking that surely someone will come and feed them and find the kitten. Well, he is found and is now helping me with my computer work at home. I have named him Wotan, the Magnificent – or should that be “the Lucky”? (and no, he is not the kitten I have talked about earlier – that one is bigger and older).