Photo by Mike Goren from New York
Yellow-Eyed Penguin – Megadyptes antipodes
Megadyptes Genus – Large divers
Other names: hoiho (Maori)
Height: 24-29 in.
Weight: 9.54-18.75 lb.
Life expectancy in the wild: 9-10 years.
Approximated Population: 6,000-7000
Population tendency: Decreasing
IUCN Conservation Status: EN
Yellow-eyed penguins are easily identifiable among other species because of the yellow color of their eyes and also because the plumage of the back, flippers, and the tail is not dark black as in other species.
They have a light yellow stripe around each eye that continues and joins in the back of their head. The rest of their dark plumage on the back, wings, and tail, is not completely black as in other species, mixed white feathers in those areas give it the appearance of dark brown or dark gray.
Their front from the throat to the legs is fully white, and their legs are pink. Their beak has mixed parts of pink and orange and as their name implies the iris of their eyes are yellow.
Newborn chicks look very different; they have light brown plumage and lack the yellow eyes and all the colorful details of the head that adults have.
Where do they live?
Yellow-eyed penguins main colonies are on Campbell Island, Auckland Island, Stewart Island, South Island of New Zealand and the Otago Peninsula
Colorful plants, trees, and humidity are part of the natural landscape of the Yellow-eyed Penguin.
Skills and Behavior
These penguins are sedentary, and they do not make migratory journeys. They are not as social as other species, so they do not group in crowded colonies; they prefer hiking on their own and dive into the sea individually.
These penguins are sedentary, and they do not make migratory journeys.
The yellow-eyed penguin forages predominantly over the continental shelf between 1 and 16 miles offshore, diving to depths of 131 ft to 394 feet.
Both partners and their offspring communicate acoustically. They do not show as much bonding as other penguins because of their individual character. They prefer to hide their chicks in natural cavities made by tree trunks or rocks to avoid any disturbance.
Yellow-eyed penguins molt as all other species. Shortly after hatchlings have their first molt, adults enter a pre-molt period when they have to feed plenty themselves for six weeks to store the nutrients within their body that will keep them alive during the 24-28 days of the molting process when they will have to stay on land.
Males can weigh up to 17.6 pounds if the food availability is abundant. Drinking water from lakes, streams or directly from the rain, is one of the few activities that penguins do during the waiting period.
The molting process begins since they are at sea when the new plumage starts to grow under the skin, but the old feathers still allow the penguin to dive without danger. When the molt completes, they must wait a few days until their plumage becomes waterproof, so they can safely return to the ocean.
What do they eat?
Yellow-eyed penguins feed on small fish such as opal fish, red cod, blue cod and kingfish as well as shellfish. Most of their hunting occurs on the edge of the continental shelf between 1 and 16 miles offshore.
Sexual maturity: 2-3 years females, 3-4 years males.
Incubation period: About two months.
Normal clutch: Two eggs.
The courtship begins between August and early September, and thus the fights start. Some males fight savagely to claim the best places for nesting while a few repeat the spots from previous years. Both partners are responsible for nest building by collecting materials and their arrangement above vegetation or inside a small cave, usually far from other nests.
Both partners are responsible for nest building by collecting materials.
The second egg is laid two to four days after the first. Father and mother take turns incubating, and they do not discard any egg or chick, they feed both so they can manage to survive. This kind of behavior is excellent news for an endangered species because having only one offspring would reduce even further the population.
The breeding season of this species is 150 days longer than other species, excluding the large penguins.
Ferrets, stoats, and introduced cats are the main predators of eggs, chicks, and even adults.
Diseases such as avian malaria and other disorders caused by bacteria and parasites, as well as the lack of food as a result of temperature changes in the ocean are their main threats.
Human activities like disturbance due to tourism, forgotten fishing nets, and accidental forest fires, are also factors that threaten the Megadyptes antipodes.
Yellow-Eyed Penguin range map
Salomon, David. Penguin-pedia, photographs and facts from one man’s search for the penguins pf the world. Brown Books. 2011.
Garcia Borboroglu, Pablo. Penguins: Natural History and Conservation. University of Washington Press, 2015.
BioExpedition Publishing © 2017.