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Table of Contents
The smallest of all the penguin species, the little penguin (Eudyptula minor) lives in colonies along the southern coastlines of Australia and New Zealand, from the family Spheniscidae. Often called fairy penguins, these species are listed as of least concern by the IUCN.
See the fact file below for more information on the little penguin or alternatively, you can download our 21-page Little Penguin worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- In 1781, these little penguins were initially described by German naturalist Johann Reinhold Forster.
- Genetic analyses suggest that the Australian and Otago little penguins may constitute a distant species. Because of this, the specific name minor would be devolved from on it, with the specific name novaehollandiae proposed for other populations.
- Mitochondrial and nuclear DNA evidence says the division between Eudyptula and Spheniscus happened around 25 million years ago, with the predecessors of the white-flippered and little penguins deviating about 2.7 million years ago.
- Just like any other penguin, the little penguin’s wings have turned into flippers, which are used for swimming.
- They usually reach between 30 to 33 cm (12 to 13 in) tall, and weigh about 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs). Sexual dimorphism is not common in this species – males are usually larger and have longer and deeper bills than females.
- The little penguin’s head and upper abdomen are blue in color, with slate-grey ear coverts dissolving to white underneath, from the chin to the belly.
- Its flippers are also blue in color. The little penguin’s beak is dark grey-black, extending around 3 to 4 cm long. Its iris is pale silvery- or bluish-grey or hazel, and its feet are pink with black soles and webbing.
- Young little penguins naturally have a shorter bill and lighter upperparts, usually a brighter light blue plumage.
- Like most birds living near the ocean shores, little penguins have a long lifespan. The average for the species is around 6.5 years, but bird banding experiments reveal in some exceptional cases of up to 25 years in captivity.
- Little penguins are species found throughout the southern coast of Australia and as far north as the South Solitary Island off the coast of New South Wales. These fairy penguins also live in the coasts of New Zealand.
- Little penguins have six extant subspecies. The E. m. novaehollandia is native to Australia. The other five subspecies, E. m. iredaei, E. m. variabilis, E. m. albosignata, E. m. minor, and E. m. chathamensis, are scattered around the country of New Zealand.
- When on land, little penguins live in coastal habitats with good nesting conditions. They build their nests in burrows dug in bare sand or under vegetation. If the ground is too delicate to hold a burrow, these penguins also nest in caves and rock cracks.
- The little penguin’s habitats include rocky coastlines, savanna, and scrub forests.
- Since they are also marine seabirds, little penguins spend most of their time swimming underwater.
- Courtship starts with male little penguins producing mating calls. He usually holds his body in an upright position with flippers above his back, neck elongated, and head straight up facing the sky. He then utters a braying sound.
- These displays may either be done alone or in a group of unmated males. There are some instances when the male will present in front of a nest he built.
- After a female chooses her mate, they stage a courtship display together. One penguin stands upright and fans out its flippers with head bowed, which tells the other bird to follow and they walk in small circles in the vicinity of the nest, braying as they go.
- Once this display is done, copulation takes place.
- Little penguins are monogamous; retention of mated pairs annually is high in this species. Pairs are likely to separate only after an unsuccessful nesting attempt or death.
- From June to October, little penguins breed in unconstrained colonies.
- They may build their nests in ground burrows, rocky cliffs or caves, where they produce a clutch of 1 to 2 eggs.
- The eggs are silky and white in appearance, usually weighing around 53 grams, with an average diameter of 42.0 mm.
- Incubation takes place for 31 to 40 days and the newly hatched chicks reach around 36 to 47 g. These chicks are slightly altricial, thus they are born with downy feathers which need brooding, and are not yet capable of leaving the nest nor searching for food for themselves.
- After the eggs hatch, the next 18 to 38 days are called the “guard period” for parents where they brood the young, taking turns every 3 to 4 days.
- Once the guarding period is over, the parents relax their duties and guard their young only at night.
- Fledging happens when the chick is about 50 to 65 days old, and at this time, it has already reached a weight of 800 g to 1150 g.
- Juveniles are fully independent at 57 to 78 days old. Most reach sexual maturity at the age of 3.
- The breeding cycle of little penguins depends on nesting location and other environmental factors. Nutrition, age, and breeding date can also influence the timing of the breeding cycle and nesting success of these penguins species.
- Little penguins have a number of different aggressive behavior displays, which are divided into four different categories, such as stationary warning displays, immediately advancing towards the intruder, slight physical contact, and physical attacks. All of these four ecological behaviors include a varying physical display and vocalization.
- The stationary warning display happens when there is danger 1 to 3 meters away from the penguin. The little penguin spreads its flippers, holding its body straight-up and giving the intruder a direct look with a loud vocalization.
- When the penguin quickly runs towards the intruder, it walks rapidly or lunges towards the other animal with a bray-like call.
- Brief physical contact can vary from touching bills to slapping the intruder with its flipper. If the penguin is in its nest, it lunges out to peck the intruder with its beak.
- If the other animal does not leave the penguin’s sight, it will resort to physical attacks that include biting and beating with flippers.
- Little penguins are known to be the most nocturnal penguins, but naturally spend all day looking for food at sea and returning to the shore to roost at dusk.
- During the breeding season, penguins swim out only an average of 8 to 9 km from the land for about 12 to 18 hours at a time. These short trips are because the chicks are still unable to live on their own.
- During the non-breeding season, little penguins usually swim long distances of up to 710 km. They utilize a huge amount of energy to dive underwater compared to other larger penguins. Even though they can reach up to 67 m in depth, little penguins remain within 5 m of the surface.
- When they go back to shore from the sea, they parade back to their nests in colonies.
- Little penguins are naturally piscivorous; they only live on a fish diet, mostly composed of Clupeiformes fish, such as anchovies and sardines. Sometimes, they also feed on small squid, octopi, and crustaceans. They master a pursuit-diving technique to catch prey in shallow depths.
- These penguins are preyed by sharks, seals, orca whales, dogs, weasels, rats, foxes, and cats. Pacific gulls and King’s skinks are the main predators of little penguins, eating their eggs and feeding on their young.
- To reduce predation, little penguins formulated an anti-predator technique – they move in groups to and from the ocean before dawn and a few hours after dusk when it is already dark. Less land movements under the cover of darkness is the little penguin’s method to stay away from their predators.
- Currently, little penguins are listed as a species of least concern by the IUCN, although their population is decreasing due to the declining numbers of prey, oil spills, human settlement, coastal erosion, and pollution.
- Their subspecies E. m. albosignata is now considered endangered, and is now only found on the Banks Peninsula on South Island, New Zealand.
Little Penguin Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle which includes everything you need to know about the little penguin across 21 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use Little Penguin worksheets that are perfect for teaching students about the little penguin (Eudyptula minor) which lives in colonies along the southern coastlines of Australia and New Zealand, from the family Spheniscidae. Often called fairy penguins, these species are listed as of least concern by the IUCN.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Little Penguin Facts
- Little Blue Penguins
- Little Penguin Basics
- Anatomy of a Little Penguin
- Life Story of a Little Penguin
- Draw My Habitat
- Two Small Penguins
- Little Penguin Subspecies
- Penguin Origami
- Fairy Penguin Recap
- Coping with Climate Change
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Link will appear as Little Penguin Facts & Worksheets: https://kidskonnect.com - KidsKonnect, June 3, 2020
Use With Any Curriculum
These worksheets have been specifically designed for use with any international curriculum. You can use these worksheets as-is, or edit them using Google Slides to make them more specific to your own student ability levels and curriculum standards.