Of the seventeen species of penguin in the Southern Hemisphere - there are none in the North - six live and breed in New Zealand. The full list is the Blue, the Erect-Crested, the Fjordland, The Rockhopper, the Snares and the Yellow-Eyed.
In passing it is a noteworthy fact that penguins only occur in sub-Antarctic waters while Polar Bears only occur in sub-Arctic waters.
We saw and heard from a distance one of New Zealand's penguins, the Blue.
All close-up photos on this page are borrowed, acknowledged and linked to their home site.
On our walk out on Okia Flat we passed a sign telling us to watch out for the moulting yellow-eyed penguin - or rather to avoid them if we did see them. We were a bit unlucky with penguins on the Peninsula but it seems that March is a time of moulting when the penguins are hidden away in the dunes and feeling pretty miserable. They can lose 3-4kg of body weight during the moult.
It is not surprising we did not see the increasingly rare yellow-eyed penguin. Mass mortality and starvation problems in 2014 reduced the number of breeding pairs at Okia Flats from 13 to 5. There is increasing concern about factors affecting penguin life at sea and the availability of food whereas in the past conservation efforts were focussed on maintaining and protecting breeding habitats.
In 2012 442 pairs were counted in New Zealand after a low point of 150 pairs in 1990. It is one of the most endangered penguin species in the world. Yellow-eyed penguins feed at 2-25km from their home beach and generally return at night, even outside the breeding period (See the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Trust and my detailed page on African Penguins in South Africa.)
The prime materials for a perfect penguin habitat include the following – New Zealand flax/harakeke (Phormium tenax), lemonwood/tarata (Pittosporum eugenioides), black mapou (P. tenuifolium), cabbage tree/ti (Cordyline australis), mikimiki (Coprosma propinqua), ngaio (Myoporum laetum) and koromiko (Hebe salicifolia).
The Blue or Little penguin/korora (Eudyptula minor), is found in many places in New Zealand and is the world's smallest penguin.
The Blue is 25 cm tall and weighs about 1kg.
The birds are hard to see as they only return to their burrows ashore under the cover of darkness. However, Blues will nest close to humans under buildings, stacks of timber or even railway tracks. On Stewart Island they breed near the big oil tanks by the main landing.
Usually two eggs are laid between September to November. The chicks grow rapidly, with adult weight being achieved in 4-5 weeks. At 8 weeks the chicks fledge and from then are independent. There is a high rate of juvenile mortality and Blues can live for 25 years.
Blues are very vulnerable to predation from introduced ferrets, stoats, and weasels and have been decimated in mainland colonies. Dogs are also major predators - particularly of penguins returning from the sea. And from the air the southern brown skua is a vicious predator.
The NZ Department of Conservation ranks the blue penguin as "Lower risk - near threatened".