National Zoo & Aquarium

Hello! I’m a Little Penguin

Little penguins are the smallest penguins in the world. The Emperor Penguin is the largest and is around 4 time the size of the Little Penguin. Male and female Little Penguins bond for life. Pairs are often very social with a nesting period between August and January. On average, there are 2 eggs per clutch and each parent takes it in turns to sit on the egg for about eight days at a time. The chicks go to sea on their own at about 8 weeks of age and after two or three years of wandering the seas alone they return to their birth area to find a mate.

Little Penguins can swim at about 16km/h and dive up to 40m deep. Their keeled sternum and wedged shaped tail, combined with their feet, acts as a rudder when they dive. Their dense waterproof plumage is dark on the upper parts and white on the underbelly giving them dual camouflage from above and below, whilst in the water. They eat pilchards, sardines, crustaceans and squid, consuming about 10% of their body weight every three days.

Every year, at the end of the breeding season (usually late summer), all adult Little Penguins will shed their feathers and grow replacements. This 2-3-week process, commonly referred to as the ‘moult’ is essential, as their feathers wear out over the year from rubbing against other penguins, regular preening and contact with the ground or water. During the moult, a penguin’s feathers will lose some of its insulating and waterproofing capabilities which forces them to stay on land until their plumage has returned to its optimum condition. As a result, the Little Penguins do not feed while they moult and therefore feed intensively beforehand, storing body fat in order to survive the loss of up to half of their body weight.

The National Zoo and Aquarium is home to 10 Little Penguins. The Zoo is part of a regional breeding program for Little Penguins.

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Little Penguin facts

Conservation status Lower Risk
Distribution Southern Coastline of Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand
Weight 1.1–1.2kg
Length 30cm
Life span 7–20 years
Gestation 35–45 days

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Scrivener Dam, Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2611

Open every day from 9:30am to 5:00pm

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