10 Facts about New Zealand penguins

Yellow-eyed penguin
© Lou Sanson / WWF-New Zealand
Fascinating Facts

Penguins are fascinating creatures that capture the hearts of people all over the world, and New Zealand (including the Ross Dependency) is home to 13 our of 18 species of penguins. 
This includes a number found nowhere else.

Here are some things you might not know about New Zealand’s penguins, including some of places you can observe them. 

1. At home in New Zealand

Three penguin species breed, and can be seen, on the New Zealand mainland, hoiho (yellow eyed), tawaki (Fiordland crested) and kororā (little penguin).

2. One of the rarest penguins

The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the rarest penguin species in the world, with only around 4,000 individuals remaining in the wild. 

3. Southerners

Yellow-eyed penguins can be found on the south-eastern coastline of the South Island, Stewart Island and the Sub-antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands. The easiest place to spot them is the Otago Peninsula, home to their only mainland breeding colony.

4. Yellow eyes

Hoiho get their English name from their distinctive yellow eyes and the yellow band of feathers that runs from their eyes to the back of their heads as can be seen in the photo above.

Little penguin in the city
© naturepl.com / Doug Gimesy / WWF

Little penguin in Melbourne

5. The Smallest Penguin

The little penguin, also known as the little blue penguin, is the smallest penguin species in the world, measuring only 25cm tall. 

6. Not too hard to find

The cute and playful kororā can be found all over New Zealand and are the easiest penguins to observe as a number live close to urban centres (as seen above). The colony that breed on Matiu / Somes Island are often seen in and around Wellington Harbour. You can also see them at the Auckland Zoo.

7. Honey, I’m home

Little penguins have a unique habit of vocalising to their partners before they leave their burrows in the morning and when they return at night.

8. Forest dwellers

Tawaki, found in the Fiordland region of New Zealand's South Island, make their nests in dense temperate rainforest, not the sort of habitat you usually associate with penguins.

9. That’s what makes them so mysterious

The Fiordland crested penguin is considered one of the world's most mysterious penguin species, as it is difficult to observe due to its remote habitat. If you do want to see them, head to Milford Sound. 

10. All at once

Rakiura/Stewart Island is the only part of New Zealand that is home to all 3 mainland species. Penguins are most likely to be observed during breeding season (July to November). But remember keep your distance and do not disturb nesting birds.

Mainland penguins face a number of challenges such as invasive predators, habitat loss, capture in fisheries, human disturbance, pollution, and climate change. Much work is underway to protect the penguins that live closest to us including, research, habitat restoration and protection, predator control, and monitoring of populations.

You can help protect New Zealand's penguin species

By adopting a penguin, you can support conservation efforts to ensure these unique and incredible creatures continue to thrive in their natural habitats.