Little blue penguins, which are the smallest species of penguins (Costa et al. 1986, Stull, 2005), are found exclusively throughout southern Australia and New Zealand coastlines (MarineBio, 2013). Their nesting burrows are located along the southern coastlines of Australia (Sergent et al. 2004) as well as around the coastlines of New Zealand (MarineBio, 2013). Little penguins typically breed on offshore islands, however, some are found near urban areas like roads or railroad tracks (Braidwood et al. 2011). Nests have been found under buildings and man-made structures. Little blue penguins tend to return to the same breeding site year after year if there were no significant negative influences to decrease breeding productivity (MarineBio, 2013, Stull, 2005).

Three little blue penguins in their habitat. Photo taken by Nicola Bernard.

Little blue penguins make small burrows on the shore of the coastlines they rely on for foraging. Burrows protect the little blue penguins from predation as well as environmental changes, especially temperature, which this species is particularly sensitive to (Home et al. 2007). These burrows are often very small, sometimes can reach a length of 30 centimeters (Gillham, 1963). They are also very intricate and can contain many tunnels from a single 5-centimeter entrance and broaden into underground chambers where the penguins live (Gillham, 1963).

Little blue penguin chick hiding in its’ burrow, Otago Peninsula, NZ. Photo taken by Dr. Richard Roscoe

Recently, studies have been done to discover why some little penguin colonies have been decreasing. These studies were done on different influences on their habitats. In a particular study done over a two-year period done on two populations of penguins located on Bowen and Lion Island in Australia, potential causes of declining health were tested through clinical hematology, or study of blood. It was concluded that the recent decline was caused by destruction of their habitat, introduced predation and the reduction of food caused by over-fishing (Sergent et al. 2004). Pollution, which includes oil spills and litter, is also a major factor to habitat destruction (Sergent et al. 2004, Garcia- Borboroglu et al. 2006, Donnet, 1987, Revill and Healy, 1999). In fact about 350 little blue penguins near the Phillip Island in Australia die annually due to oil spills (Revill and Healy, 1999).

Another study was done on a population located near urban areas, specifically the St Kilda population that was mentioned in the nutritional page. Penguins who inhabited that were forced to offshore islands because there was less human disturbance and were further away from introduced predators such as dogs and other invasive species (Stull, 2005). There has been proof of people walking their dogs down the breakwaters, where their breeding sites are located, without leashes. People have also been reported to have senselessly killed penguins. Overall, the little penguins are successfully exploiting this anthropogenic structure and show high resilience given the amount of disturbance placed on that particular colony (Gilling et al. 2008).

 The little blue penguins also have natural predators that live in the same area as them. These predators include sharks, fur seals, gulls, and eagles. They can also be afflicted by a number of different parasites found near open water habitats (Jansen van Rensburg, 2010). Viruses and diseases have been transferred to these penguins via fleas, lice and ticks (Napier et al. 2009, Jansen van Rensburg, 2010).

So you know where it lives, but what does it eat?

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