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  ScienceZoologyBirdsOrder Sphenisciformes
Little Blue PenguinLittle Penguin

Eudyptula minor (aka Little Blue, Blue, and Fairy Penguin)


The world's smallest penguin averages only 12 inches in height, with an average weight of 2.5 pounds, hence the common name "Little Penguin." It is white from the chin down the belly and on the underside of the flippers, and indigo blue everywhere else, hence its alternate names of "Little Blue" and "Blue."

Both sexes are similar in appearance, but males are larger and have longer and deeper bills. Juveniles have a dorsal plumage that is a brighter light blue than the indigo-blue of the adults, as well as thinner and shorter beaks.

Distribution and Habitat

One of the most northerly of all penguins, the little penguin is found throughout the southern coast of Australia and as far north as the South Solitary Island off the coast of New South Wales, as well as the coasts of New Zealand. There are six recognized subspecies, with one located in Australia and the others in New Zealand.

When on land, little penguins prefer coastal habitats with good nesting sites. They prefer loose sand, but if the ground is too soft to hold a burrow they will nest in caves and rock crevices. Habitats include rocky coastline, savanna, scrub forest or forests. Little penguins are marine birds, however, and spend the majority of their lives swimming underwater.


Fish, especially anchovies and sardines, make up the majority of the little penguin's diet, but small squid, octopi, and some marine crustaceans are also taken. Prey is usually taken in shallow depths using a pursuit-diving technique.


Little penguins breed in loose colonies from June to October.

Courtship begins with the male performing courtship displays and giving mating calls. He holds his body in an upright position with flippers above his back, neck stretched, and head upright facing the sky, then emits a braying sound. The display may be performed alone or in a group of unmated males, and sometime in front of a nest the male has constructed. Once the female has chosen her mate, the two perform a display together before mating. Once formed, mating pairs tend to stay together for life, although an unsuccessful nesting attempt may prompt a "divorce."

Little penguins nest in ground burrows, rocky cliffs or caves, where they lay a clutch of 1 to 2 smooth, white eggs. The female handles most of the incubation duties, which last 31-40 days, but the male helps by exchanging duties with the female every 3 to 4 days.

Little penguin chicks are completely dependent on their parents for the first 18 to 38 days, with the parents trading off every 3 to 4 days. After the initial "guard period," the parents guard the chicks only at night. Fledging occurs at 50 to 65 days, and full independence is achieved at 57 to 78 days. Sexual maturity is usually achieved at about 3 years.

Little penguins can lay multiple clutches if the first clutch was a failure or if the adults raised their first fledglings early in the breeding season.

Other Information

Considered the most nocturnal of the penguins, little penguins generally spend all day foraging at sea and return to land to roost at dusk. When the penguins return to shore from the sea, they parade back to their nests in groups.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
family Spheniscidae
genus & species Eudyptula minor

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  The Robinson Library > Science > Zoology > Birds > Order Sphenisciformes

This page was last updated on July 31, 2016.

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