The Cincinnati Zoo is home to five species of penguins, and their colony of Blue Penguins recently increased their census with the hatching of their newest chicks!
Photo Credits: Cassandre Crawford/ Cincinnati Zoo
The Blue Penguin (also known as: Little Blue Penguin, Fairy Penguin, or Little Penguin) is the smallest species of penguin. It is native to the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand. They grow to an average of about 13 inches (33 cm) in height and 17 inches (43 cm) in length. Their name alludes to their slate-blue plumage.
Blue Penguins are diurnal and spend the biggest part of their day swimming and foraging for food at sea. During breeding and chick rearing seasons, they leave their nests at sunrise, forage for food throughout the day and return to nest just after dusk. Blue Penguins rub tiny drops of oil, from a gland above their tail, onto every feather. This task of preening with oil helps keep their feathers waterproof while swimming.
Blue Penguins mature at different ages. A female will mature at around two-years, and a male will, however, reach maturity at about three-years-old. They remain faithful to their partner during breeding season and hatching. They will swap burrows at other times of the year, but they also exhibit site fidelity to their own nesting colony.
Nests are situated close to the sea in burrows excavated by the birds or other species. They will also nest in caves, rock crevices, under logs or in a variety of man-made structures (nest boxes, pipes, stacks of wood, buildings). They are the only species of penguin capable of producing more than one clutch of eggs per breeding season. The one or two, white or mottled brown, eggs are generally laid from July to mid-November. Incubation can take up to 36 days, and the chicks are brooded for 18-38 days. They fledge after 7-8 weeks.
The Blue Penguin is classified as “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List. However, their populations are threatened by a variety of terrestrial creatures, such as: cats, dogs, rats, foxes, and large reptiles. Due to their diminutive size, some colonies have been reduced in size by as much as 98% in just a few years. A small colony near Warrnambool, Victoria, Australia was reduced from approximately 600 penguins in 2001 to less than 10 in 2005. Because of this threat, conservationists pioneered an experimental technique using Maremma Sheepdogs to protect the colony and fend of potential predators.