Little Penguins

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Join our group on Wildcare Tasmania: <here>
Visit Friends of Lillico Penguins at Wildcare: <here>
Become a Volunteer Guide or join a working bee; email Joanna;
Tourist Information: <Viewing Platform Location and Info>
Penguin FAQ: <Frequently Asked Questions>

The  below Parks and Wildlife Penguin Brochure is now also available in:

Dutch - thanks to Regi Broeren
Japanese - thanks to FOLP member Peter Tongue
Arabic - thanks to Noirin in Dubai :)
Portugese - thanks to Fuzivel
Indonesian - thanks to Dglorifier
Finnish - thanks to Sini Hakala
German - thanks to DanielP05
Spanish - thanks to PaolaTor
French - thanks to Roxelane
Vietnamese - thanks to AoikusaNguyen
Serbian - thanks to Sarajevo54
Croation - thanks to Sarajevo54
Bosnian - thanks again to Sarajevo54 :)
Malay - thanks to Linahardy
Italian - thanks to Giusss
Chinese - thanks to Gloria Wong
Russian - thanks to PitetskyiR
Ukranian - also thanks to PitetskyiR

Little Penguin Eudyptula minor

The scientific name of the little penguin (or little penguin) Eudyptula minor, is most descriptive. Not only is it the smallest of all penguins, but also the Greek word ‘Eudyptula’ means ‘good little diver’. This flightless seabird breeds in colonies along the southern coast of Australia, as far north as Port Stephens in the east to Fremantle in the west. Subspecies are also found in New Zealand. Very little is known about their populations. However, Tasmania estimates range from 110,000–190,000 breeding pairs of which less than 5% are found on mainland Tasmania. The most abundant populations are found on offshore islands. Adults weigh around 1 kilogram and grow to a height of 40 cm with an average lifespan of 6 years. In one instance, an age of 21 years has been recorded.

At Sea

The little penguin is superbly adapted to life at sea. Its streamlined shape and the efficient propulsion of its flippers (used underwater in a similar manner to that of birds in the air) enables it to seek prey in shallow short dives, frequently between the 10–30 m range and very occasionally extending to 60 m. Its webbed feet are excellent for maneuvering on the surface and has claws for digging and climbing slippery rocks. Penguins have large eyes with retinas specially adapted for detecting movement in low light. Unlike us, little penguins have flattened corneas so that they can see clearly both under and above water. In common with other penguins and many other sea creatures, the little penguin uses counter-shading as camouflage; the upper surface being dark to blend in with the sea from above while the underside is silvery white, similar to surface reflections from below. This helps penguins avoid the attention of predatory birds from above, seals and sharks from below and also means their prey may not detect them. Some little penguins return consistently to their burrows year round but most stay at sea throughout the autumn winter period.


The little penguin diet varies in different locations but consists mainly of small school fish, some squid or krill (shrimp-like crustaceans). Prey is caught with rapid jabs of the beak and swallowed whole, aided by barbs on the roof of the mouth. Prey is swallowed whole. Food is stored centrally in a large gut rather than in a crop, as this would unbalance them. Little penguins need to eat about 25% of their body weight per day just to maintain condition, more if feeding young or putting on condition to moult. Occasionally they will take crab larvae or sea horses from the sea floor.

Colonies and nest sites 

Most resident birds in a colony return to their burrows in small groups within an hour or so of darkness, to avoid predators such as gulls, ravens and sea eagles. Groups of penguins gather beyond the surf where they may be heard calling to each other. They come ashore in a flock because there is safety in numbers. More birds means more eyes to detect predators and the sheer numbers can be confusing to a predator. With large colonies hundreds of birds may come ashore in a brief space of time. Nests are usually at least 2 m apart and generally consist of a 60–80 cm tunnel ending with a nest ‘bowl’ made from grass or seaweed. Other nests may vary from mere scrapes beneath a clump of tussock, to elaborate connecting tunnels or a home amongst coastal rocks. Little penguins may have to compete with shearwaters, water rats, snakes and more recently, rabbits, for burrows.


Between June and August male penguins return to either renovate old burrows or to dig new ones. Noisy male courting displays greet arriving female penguins. Although only one mate is chosen, they will usually not be their sole partner for life. Birds breed annually, and in eastern Australia the usual clutch of two eggs may be found as early as May or as late as October. In successful years, two clutches might be reared in one season, which is unusual among penguins. The penguin pair share incubation shifts of usually 1–2 days and hatching takes place within 33–37 days. About 60% of the eggs successfully hatch. At hatching the chicks are sooty black and weigh little more than 25 g. Both parents feed the chicks which eat up to half their weight per day and at 40 days old they may be even heavier than their parents. When 5 weeks old, the chicks are very active and even stay outside burrows waiting to be fed by their parents. Within another 2 or 3 weeks they are ready to move to the sea, where they will grow to maturity. About 70% of chicks reach this stage however only 15% will live to maturity of two years old. Most of these mature birds will return to their natal colony to breed.


After breeding, the adults feed frantically to put on condition for their two week moult ashore. They must nearly double their weight because they will not feed or drink during moult. If their nests are large, moulting will occur there but often the penguins choose a roomier place where they can more easily preen and scratch. Such places are obvious from the thousands of feathers scattered about.


Song and displays serve to attract mates, stave off intruders and, as a duet, unite a pair’s attachment to each other. The distinctive individual song moves from a bass rumble to a trumpeting cry, accompanied by flipper, beak and body movements. These calls and displays vary in intensity from a ‘half-trumpet display’ to a fever pitch of sound and body activity. At night, and especially during the breeding season, the noisy din of a penguin colony can be considerable.

Seasonal activities 

Variations in food supplies, caused by changes in ocean currents or other factors, determine the pattern of life for each local population of little penguins and may differ considerably from the diagram below. In favourable years, eggs may be laid in May and up until October, with two or even three broods of chicks reared in one year.

Threats and predation 

Seasonal changes in natural food supplies from year to year cause many young birds to be washed up dead or in weak condition on our beaches. Nestlings may also be killed by heat or by tick infestations. Due to their small size little penguins have many predators. Australian and New Zealand fur seals both eat little penguins as does the occasional leopard seal. Large gulls can kill penguins and inshore, white-bellied sea eagles catch many.

Around colonies water rats take eggs and chicks. Ravens and raptors patrol these areas for exposed eggs, chicks and adults, as do quolls and Tasmanian devils at night on Mainland Tasmania. However, little penguins have evolved alongside these predators and can cope with them. Introduced predators such as rats, dogs and cats and threats from humans pose a greater problem.

Thoughtless activities create extra problems for little penguins. They may be drowned when amateur fishermen unknowingly set gill nets near penguin colonies

Oil spills are disastrous for penguins and other sea birds. Not only is oil toxic when ingested, but the buoyancy and insulation of penguin plumage is damaged. Plastics are mistakenly swallowed and bottle packaging can become a noose around a penguin neck.

Uncontrolled dogs or feral cats kill many penguins (more than the penguin’s natural predators).

If the fox becomes established in Tasmania then penguins will have to try to cope with yet another predator.

The effects of human habitation, such as road kills, direct harassment, vegetation burn-off and housing development continue to threaten little penguin colonies.

Viewing guidelines 

These guidelines are intended to both protect the penguins and to allow you to see them under natural conditions. Please be sure you are familiar with them before visiting a penguin colony.

Penguins will leave the water at last light so that they are under the cover of darkness, which helps to protect them from predators. At this time they are very vulnerable (remember they regard you as a potential predator) and hence are wary. If they sense a threat or are disturbed by torchlight or loud noise they stay at sea longer. This is stressful for them and can interfere with breeding, or may prevent them reaching their hungry young in the burrow. If they stay at sea, you may not see them at all.

It is important 

Please read and observe any information signs which may be placed at the penguin colony.

Wear dark clothing for camouflage and dress to keep warm. Approach your observation point from the land, preferably not by walking along the beach as this blocks the penguins, access to their burrows.

Use existing tracks. Do not walk through the colony as it destroys burrows. Please do not damage vegetation. Choose a viewing position which is at least 3 m from, and does not block, the penguins’ access to their burrows. Choose a site which has a dark background to camouflage yourself. Settle yourself comfortably before last light. If there are experienced personnel available, please take their advice. Remain quiet and keep movement to a minimum. Penguins have excellent vision and easily spot movement, especially if they see you outlined against the sky

Only dim torches emitting a red light (red cellophane over the lens is OK) should be used and then never toward the water or directly at the penguins. Flash cameras should not be used on the beach. Video cameras without spotlights can be used and produce better results at dusk than conventional cameras.

Often the best places to view penguins are behind the beach where they feel more secure. Again, only use red light. To aid viewing, binoculars are useful, even at night.

Do not under any circumstances visit a colony with dogs (or cats). Even if dogs are on a leash, their smell remains to attract others afterwards. Take your food scraps away as these also attract dogs and cats. Penguins are protected wildlife.

It is illegal to catch, attempt to catch or otherwise harass penguins. If this type of behaviour is observed, please report it to the nearest ranger. Offences are taken seriously. If you are interested or concerned about your local penguin population please contact the nearest Parks and Wildlife Service office.


The Friends of Lillico Penguin group relies on donations for its funding. Any donation will be much appreciated and will be used to help protect the Little Penguins from harm at the Lillico platform in Tasmania. <Donate here>

Further information 

Stahel, C. & Gales, R. (1987). Little Penguins - Little Penguins in Australia. Uni Press, Kensington, NSW.

Contact Biodiversity Conservation Branch: DPIW 134 Macquarie Street, Hobart. 7000
Phone: (03) 6233 6556 Fax: (03) 6233 3477


  1. To the lady who gave me the penguin sticker over a year ago.

    We made a little detour from cradle mountain to see the penguins. We did so on our trip around the world. Arriving there we met 2 ladies who gave us some explanations and showed us where we would see the penguins later that evening. They were volunteering there and made sure tourists were informed and would not disturb the penguins. One of them gave us a sticker of a penguin. Not knowing what i should do with it (as an adult) i’d put it on my bankcard holder and spent the next hours waiting for en enjoining the sight of penguins. That was a cold but great evening.

    One 1,5 year later the sticker is still on my card holder. I look at it daily and it reminds me of a short but great moment of my trip around the word. It reminds me of the innocence of little penguins of a really nice lady, that would stand they a few evenings a week no matter how cold. Thank you Lady, people like you make the world a really nice place to live in.

    Thank you!