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New South Wales: Quoll Headquarters - 164 hectares - Steve Haslam

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Victoria: Witchwood - 9.1 hectares - Jill Redwood

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Queensland: The Roost - 39.75 hectares - Lynn Childs

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Tasmania: Lyn and Geoff's Refuge - 10 hectares - Lyn and Geoff Murray

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Western Australia: Tippaburra Valley - 2470 hectares - Buddy Kent

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New South Wales: Falls Forest Retreat - 80 hectares - Mary White

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Victoria: Wingura - 2.5 hectares - Suzanne and John Brandenberger

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Queensland: Cooper Creek Wilderness - 66.74 hectares - Prue Hewett

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Little Penguin PDF Print E-mail

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Little penguins - (c) iStockphoto/Julie Wax

 

At a glance

The fairy penguin (Eudyptula minor) is the smallest species of its order (Sphenisciformes), typically growing to 30–33 cm high and weighing around 1.2 kilograms, though males are commonly a little larger with a deeper bill and bigger head.

 

Lacking any seasonal variation in appearance, the head, fins and upperparts are generally blue, with slate-grey ear coverts fading to white from the chin to the belly, and immature individuals having a shorter bill and slightly bluer back and wings.

 

Little penguins (also known as fairy penguins) are generally inshore, opportunistic feeders with a diet of mainly small schooling fish such as anchovies (Engraulis australis) and pilchards (Sardinops neopilchardus), as well as squid and other small ocean dwelling creatures. Their nesting behaviour is also opportunistic, using anything that provides relative shelter where burrowing conditions are poor, including pipes or under vegetation.

 

Typically however, they burrow in sand dunes, rock piles, sea caves and occasionally under buildings. There's usually a tunnel 60 to 80 cm long with a nest bowl at one end large enough for a penguin to stand in.

Like many seabirds, they have a fairly long lifespan (six to seven years) and reach sexual maturity at about three years for males and two years for females. They are monogamous only within a breeding season and share incubation and chick rearing duties for the first three months. Nest building is usually in September, producing a clutch of one or two white or lightly mottled brown eggs. Although both eggs normally hatch, competition for food usually leads to just one chick fledging successfully.

 

Found in Australia and New Zealand, their northern distribution is likely restricted by food availability and land temperatures, while their large surface area to volume ratio is thought to restrict the species from sub-Antarctic waters.

Humane Society International (HSI) has long been involved with the species, successfully nominating the 'Little penguin population, Manly Point area' as an Endangered Population under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act, 1995, in 1997. While considering HSI's nomination, the NSW Scientific Committee found that the decline of Sydney's little penguin population is due to habitat destruction from development and predation from domestic and introduced animals, particularly dogs.

 

Other threats included reduced food sources, toxic effects of oil spills, jet skis and powerboats, chronic lead poisoning (by ingestion of lead fishing sinkers) and entanglement in fishing tackle and plastic debris.

 

Despite being in generally good health (estimated world population is around 350,000 to 600,000 individuals) the Manly penguins are of significant conservation value given their disjunction from other populations, their occurrence in Sydney Harbour, and being the only known breeding colony on mainland NSW.

 

Little penguins living so close to a major urban centre highlights the importance of habitat conservation and the integral role of community participation in the conservation of biodiversity, both factors integral to the Wildlife Land Trust.

 

Following HSI's nomination and the eventual listing of the species, a Recovery Planwas developed by the NSW Government, outlining several recovery actions to maintain and enhance the endangered population, including: monitoring the population to identify potential habitat; educating the community; including the colony in marine pollution management; and protecting habitat through the environmental planning and assessment process.

 

A 2007 progress report noted that these actions appear to have arrested the declining numbers of the population, with promising signs such as increased chick fledging apparent.

 

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