Penguins are a distinct group of highly specialised, social and flightless seabirds. Most penguins live in the sub-Antarctic and none are found in the northern hemisphere.
Penguins spend long periods of time at sea and come ashore only to breed and moult. Penguin’s wings have evolved into flat, paddle-like flippers and this allows them to be excellent swimmers – speeds of up to 24 km per hour have been recorded!
There are 17 penguin species in the world, however only the little penguin, also known as the fairy penguin, is found along Australia’s east coast. Little penguins are the smallest of the penguin family, with a length of about 40 centimetres and weight of around 1 kilogram.
They are a blue grey colour with a white underside. They communicate through a series of short sharp barks and yelps.
Little penguins feed on pilchards, whitebait and other small fish. To do so, they travel and dive extensively. They can venture up to 200 kilometres from their homes and dive up to 60 metres during their feeding excursions.
Little penguins are monogamous and mate for life. They start breeding at around 3 years of age and return to the same nesting sites year after year. Each breeding pair builds a burrow where they raise their chicks. The parents return to their burrows to feed their chicks at dusk in groups, as a protection against predators.
Penguins in NSW
Little penguins are found in substantial numbers on many islands off the NSW coast. They thrive here due to a lack of threats from human development and introduced species.
Little penguins are also found within Sydney Harbour, with a small population existing near Manly as well as along the foreshore within parts of the Sydney Harbour National Park. However, the best place to view little penguins is arguably Montague Island, off Narooma on the NSW South Coast. It has a population of over 5000 pairs.
The natural predators of little penguins are sea lions and sharks; however this species is under threat from human-related activity, including destruction of their foreshore nest sites, boat strikes, and attacks from cats, dogs and foxes.