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Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Megadyptes antipodes (aka Hoiho)

Yellow-Eyed Penguin


As its name suggests, this penguin is distinguished by its yellow eyes, along with a bright yellow band encircling the head from eye to eye and pale yellow feathers on the head. The rest of the penguin is gray-blue in color, with a snow-white belly and pink feet. The yellow-eyed penguin stands about 2 feet tall and weighs about 11-12 pounds. Both sexes are similar in size and coloration, but the male's head and feet are slightly larger. Juveniles look like the adults, except that the yellow band encircling the head is absent and the yellow head feathers are paler in color or absent.

Distribution and Habitat

The yellow-eyed penguin is found on the southeast coast of South Island (New Zealand), on islands off Stewart Island, Stewart Island itself, the Auckland Islands and Campbell Island. Its land habitats include forest and scrubland and, sometimes, grazed pasture.

The population of yellow-eyed penguins is estimated to be around 2,000 breeding pairs. The majority of those pairs breed on the sub-antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands; around 500 pairs breed on New Zealand's South Island, and there are another 150 pairs on and around Stewart Island.


Like all other penguins, the yellow-eyed penguin feeds primarily on fish, although it will also take squid. Feeding is usually done near the bottom, at depths of up to 525 feet and as far as 30 miles off shore. Dive times are up to 3.5 minutes.


Although they nest in loose "colonies," yellow-eyed penguins do not nest within sight of each other. Nests are built under dense vegetation in dunes and coastal forest, usually against a solid structure such as a tree or rock, and are composed of sticks, twigs, and grasses.

Yellow-eyed penguins typically form life-long monogamous breeding pairs. Although there may be a "mourning period" of one breeding season upon the death of a mate, the widowed survivor will typically attempt to find a new mate in the next available breeding season.

Nest sites are selected in August and normally two eggs are laid in September. The incubation duties (lasting 39-51 days) are shared by both parents, each of which may spend several days on the nest at a time. For the first six weeks after hatching, the chicks are guarded during the day by one parent while the other is at sea feeding. The foraging adult returns at least daily to feed the chicks and relieve the partner. After the chicks are six weeks of age, both parents go to sea to supply food to their rapidly growing offspring. Chicks usually fledge in mid-February and are totally independent from then on.

Sexually maturity is achieved at 3-4 years, and yellow-eyed penguins typically live about 20 years.

Other Information

Where most other penguin species have become accustomed to having humans watch their courting and nesting behaviors, the yellow-eyed penguin has never adapted to the presence of humans and feeding parents will often refuse to come ashore to feed their chicks if there are humans anywhere in the vicinity.

The Maori name for this bird, "Hoiho," means "The noise shouter," and is a reference to its shrill call.

Scientific Classification

phylum Chordata
subphylum Vertebrata
class Aves
order Sphenisciformes
family Spheniscidae
genus & species Megadyptes antipodes



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The Robinson Library >> Order Sphenisciformes

This page was last updated on August 31, 2018.