Sunday, January 5, 2020

Little Penguin FAQ

Friends of Lillico Penguins: Frequently Asked Questions
Can also view this on the Wildcare Website:

Ø Q: How many penguins do you have here?
A: Just around the platform, about 50. In the whole colony, about 3000.

Ø Q: Where do they go in the off-season?
A: Little Penguins spend 80% of their time out at sea. During winter, when they don’t have chicks to feed, they can spend up to a month at sea without returning to land.

Ø Q: How far do they swim per day?
A: During breeding season, they usually feed within 8-15km of the colony. During winter, they can travel up to 700km. They travel from 15 to 50 kilometres a day, but that includes diving up and down as they look for fish.

Ø Q: How long can they hold their breath?
A: Longest recorded dive 1 min 56 secs.

Ø Q: How deep do they dive?
A: On average they dive between 5 and 20 metres.
Deepest recorded dive 72 metres.

Ø Q: How fast can penguins swim?
A: On average they can swim 2-4km/hr but they have been recorded swimming at 6.4km/hr.

Ø Q: What do they eat?
A: Small fish (eg pilchards, anchovies), squid, small octopi, krill, seahorses.
They eat about 250g of food a day, which is a quarter of their body weight.

Ø Q: Do penguins need to drink fresh water?
A: No. They have a gland above their eyes which filters salt from seawater, leaving them with fresh water in their bodies.

Ø Q: How long do they live?
A: If they survive their first 2 years, then their average life span is 6-7 years. Oldest recorded on Phillip Island was 25 years 8 months.

Ø Q: Do they mate for life?
A: No. 18-50% divorce rate. However faithful pairs produce up to three times as many chicks as birds that don’t stay together.

Ø Q: How many eggs do they lay?
A: Two, a few days apart. They are about the same
size as hens’ eggs.

Ø Q: What is the incubation period?
A: Around 33 days.

Ø Q: Do both parents look after the chicks?
A: Yes. They share incubation and feeding.

Ø Q: How do you tell the difference between the sexes?
A: With difficulty, but by their beaks. Adult females have a thinner beak than males. Males have a distinct hook on the end of their beak.

Ø Q: How do they sleep at sea?
A: Whether at sea or on land, they lie on their bellies with their heads up. They have numerous ‘catnaps’ during the day and night, for only 4 minutes at a time. They only have 12 second periods of deep REM sleep (for humans, it’s 20 minutes).

Ø Q: Why do you use red torches and not white?
A: Deep red light is much gentler on the penguins’ eyes than white and doesn’t interfere with their night vision – although we still try to avoid shining the torch in their faces.

Ø Q: Do they prefer man-made or natural burrows?
A: They seem happy to use any suitable site that’s going – it’s easier for them to use the man-made burrows, but a lot do their own thing under the bushes and platform as well.

Ø Q: Do they return to the same nest each year?
A: We don’t think so. It seems to be first in, best accommodated.

Ø Q: Why do penguins moult and how long does it take?
A: Adult penguins moult and grow new feathers every year. They depend upon healthy feathers to keep them warm and waterproof while at sea. While moulting, the penguins lose their waterproofing, so they cannot go into the water. Moulting takes about 17 days, so in that time, the penguins cannot feed – they have to depend on body fat. Before they moult, they eat as much as possible, so that they almost double their body weight.

Ø Q: Do you do any research on the penguins at Lillico?
A: No, apart from keeping records of numbers seen each evening. We let Phillip Island do the research and we get updated information from them.

Ø Q: How did the freeze-dried penguin die?
A: No sign of trauma, so probably starvation.

Ø Q: What are the penguins’ main threats?
A: Humans are by far the greatest threat, either directly or indirectly. Gill nets. Oil spills. Plastics. Competition for food. Habitat loss. Direct disturbance by people. Road deaths. Uncontrolled dogs or cats (although the cats don’t seem to worry them too much). Foxes would be a disaster.
Natural predators: Sea Eagles, Swamp Harriers, Pacific Gulls, Seals, Sharks

Ø Q: If you find a sick or injured penguin, do you care for them? A: We try to keep interference to a minimum. However, if we think a bird can be saved, there is a dedicated Penguin Rehabilitation and Release facility in Burnie.

If you would like to learn more about Little Penguins, you might be interested in the Cradle Coast NRM Online Learning package.

Print able PDF; CLICK HERE (Compiled 2017, Shirley Tongue)

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