One bird that is seldom posted in bird blogs is the humble Penguin. The main reason being that they live in the freezing waters of the Southern Ocean and thus habitate areas not easily accessible by most and often uninhabited by humans, only coming to land at night, after sunset, and returning to the sea early in the morning. Many of us forget that they are classified as birds though often in our mindset see them as something like a seal or other water creature, but they have their place as another one of our Creator’s avian wonders (in the words of my blogging friend Lee).
This is the only breeding Penguin on Australia’s mainland and can bee seen from the north Coast of NSW down the coast to South Australia and Tasmania, where in some places nightly Penguin spotting tours are held. Red light is used to spot them as it does not damage their eyes. Flash photography or any form of bright light should never be used, especially at night as it can blind them for days and cause them to drown or injure themselves. Here is some footage of a Little Penguin tour on Bonnet Island near Strahan in Tasmania.
The Little Penguin nests in a burrow and when the babies are born they will stand at the entrance and call for their parents. The parent can identify their own baby amid the many. This the purring like sound they make.
I managed to get this clip of a Penguin building its nest and pulling dry grass into its burrow. These Penguins breed around the southern coast of Australia, and some communities and schools have helped b building burrow boxes to help them nest. Locals in these areas will tell stories of how these birds will try nesting under their homes and how noisy and smelly that can become. They are relocated, and their burrows patrolled to stop domestic cats and dogs and foxes from taking the babies, but for many it is too late.
The only decent photo I have of a wild (but tagged) Fairy Penguin is this. It is difficult to do so in the dark. This flash was taken while its head was turned away. I do remember engaging quite abruptly years ago with some young German tourists who totally disregarded the warning signs to not use flash, and were taking repeated flash photos of a poor Little Penguin trying to find its burrow. The Penguin eye is super sensitive to light allowing it to see in the dark and make its way home at night, so bright light is extremely painful and disorientating.
Sadly only a few years later on my return to this particular island I was told that there were no more Penguins left, only a few saved in captivity for tourists as that night, my wife and I witnessed the very last tour on the island, where no penguins returned. The main reason for the decimation and drop in numbers around South Australia and southern Tasmania is the increasing population of the vagrant New Zealand Fur Seal at one end of Kangaroo Island in South Australia. Tour guides have shared how they watched as these large seals grabbed the Little Penguins as they made land, with all the tour people watching horrified at what they saw.
We recently visited our local Sydney SeaLife Aquarium where we were able to see live Little, King and Gentoo Penguins. They structure the viewing as a boat ride to Australia’s southern most island, Macquarie Island where the Penguins would be seen. Here is some footage firstly of the Little Penguin swimming…
The King Penguin is the second largest to the Emperor Penguin. It is found in seas around Tasmania and surrounding islands and south of Australia, with over 100,000 breeding on Macquarie Island (third largest colony), they do not build a nest but incubate their egg by standing over it for about 55 days. Both parents share incubation and walking for miles and catching food to bring back to the colony. Penguins on Macquarie Island are subject to 5 main enemies. They can be eaten by Elephant Seals, Leopard Seals and Killer Whales, their young and eggs can be taken by birds such as Skuas and Giant Petrels.
The Gentoo Penguin was another one featured in the aquarium, also found on Macquarie Island with less than 5,000 breeding pairs. Most Penguins feed on fish, squid and krill and bring home food to their young which they regurgitate from food swallowed into their stomachs. Special enzymes in the adult gut allow the food to be preserved for days at a time before they return to shore. They can then dispatch the easily digested food into the mouths of the young.
Penguins have wings but they swim with them rather than fly, and quite fast . So you might say they fly under the water, in fact the King Penguin can swim at 100 meters and has been seen at 300 meters depth. They can use their flippers, feet and body shape to propel themselves sliding over the ice on their belly like a snow board or toboggan. They are well adapted to ocean life where they hunt and play with ease, rather than life on the land or in the sky.
While Penguins can swim but can not fly with their body design, many ocean, fresh water and shore birds can do both, including these White-fronted Terns seen diving and swimming beneath the water as they follow a school of fish. They then rise out of the water back into the air.
We all experience limitations on what we can accomplish in our bodies. The above photos cause me to consider, how this bird of flight knows that it can hold its breath and swim underwater. So many other birds would not dare to try. Some will drink, wash or catch surface prey by skimming the water but without diving beneath, yet some species swim as well underwater as they fly in the sky. It is interesting how humankind has pushed beyond its established limits in so many areas of life to achieve what once seemed impossible. In medicine, sport, science, technology and many other areas the achievements of many brave and unperturbed people was rewarded as they chose to courageously press beyond what was once believed impossible. Many suffered rejection, humiliation and scorn, until they proved they had pushed the boundary further with their achievement to eventually win acclaim as inventors and innovators bringing blessing to many, which was once believed impossible.
“Keep your lives free from the lust for money: be content with what you have. God has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’. We, therefore, can confidently say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” – Hebrews 13:5,6 (JBPNT)
Have a most enjoyable weekend! If this is your first visit to my blog please check out my website Home-Page for more birding tips and healthy life skills.
NOTE: All photos, videos and music used on this website are photographed, composed, performed by the site owner and remains his copyrighted property, unless otherwise stated. The use of any material that is not original material of the site owner is duly acknowledged as such. © W. A. Hewson 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019.