King Island’s Little Penguins
King Island is richly blessed with a number of colonies of ‘Little Penguin’ more commonly known as the Fairy Penguin. There’s a healthy number of established rookeries around the island but the one that’s most accessible is around Grassy Harbour; that’s about a 25 minute drive from the King Island Accommodation Cottages.
From my experience they can be viewed at dusk, pretty much about the time when it is almost completely black, this is when they waddle out of the water to go to their burrows where they are able to keep safe from terrestrial predators, and nest, rest and moult.
In the mating season they lay two eggs and the parents take rotating shifts to incubate them.
Penguins are seabirds that do not have any flying capabilities. They have feathers, webbed feet, a beak and lay eggs. All birds have wings, and the Little Penguin is no exception, the only difference between their wings and that of birds of flight is that theirs have developed into flippers, very handy for some of the excellent manoeuvres performed in the ocean whilst being chased about by the likes of Sharks and Leopard Seals or anything else that thinks it may be speedy and agile enough to catch one.
They have been recorded diving to a depth of 72 meters and in the course of a usual day’s fishing they travel somewhere between 15 and 50kms.
The Little Penguin is the smallest of all the world’s penguin species, standing about 33cm tall and only weighing about 1kg. There is little difference between male and female, the beak is the obvious giveaway, the male has a pronounced hook at the end of his beak.
Adult birds are the only penguins in the world displaying blue and white feathers, all other penguin species have only black and white feathers.
The blue/black back of penguins blends in with the water to camouflage against anything flying or swimming overhead, and the light colours of the stomach blends in with the sky to camouflage from anything swimming underneath.
Penguins do look hilarious when they waddle along the ground, it’s probably a difficult thing trying to walk with tiny legs and big feet, it makes for an awkward movement as its body swings and sways with its ungainly gait.
Colonies are restricted to habitations in the southern parts of New Zealand and Australia with the most northerly colony found in Sydney.
Little Penguins are most at risk when on land, by the presence of foxes, (no foxes on King Island though) dogs and the ever-present predatory cats. I once visited a rookery on one of the southern parts of the island and as I was about to reverse my car, by chance I noticed a Little Penguin huddled up against my back wheel, I had to pick him up to get him out of harm’s way but couldn’t help notice how completely indefensible the little guy was, totally no match for a cat with intent.