Feed the penguins: Generous partnerships provide for hungry chicks

Department of Conservation —  11/03/2014

Sometimes our native species have it tough out there in the wild. This year large numbers of yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho chicks – natives of coastal Otago – have had a particularly challenging first few months of life.

Yellow-eyed penguin chick.

Yellow-eyed penguin chicks have thick fluffy feathers that they shed between three and four months old – which is about the age of this chick

Two of the 80 underweight chicks currently in the care of Penguin Place.

Two of the underweight chicks at Penguin Place

Every year in November/December yellow-eyed penguin chicks begin to hatch around the wild beaches of the Catlins, Otago Peninsula and North Otago.

There are often a few that are abandoned by their parents or aren’t well fed, and need to be removed from their nests. But this year a late breeding season and lack of fish to eat has meant a large number of chicks have gone hungry and many have died.

Fortunately, around 80 of these chicks and juveniles are now in the care of Penguin Place.

Penguin Place is a privately run conservation effort and tourism operation, funded through the guided tours they conduct. This project began in the mid 80’s as a family-run conservation project and nature tourism experience. They now carry out a range of conservation work including a research programme, trapping predators, providing safe nest boxes, restoring a stretch of coastline to prime penguin habitat, and rehabilitating sick and injured penguins in its penguin hospital.

Penguin Place’s Lisa King (at rear) and DOC’s Andrea Crawford, look on as the chicks are rounded up for their dinner.

Penguin Place’s Lisa King (at rear) and DOC’s Andrea Crawford, look on as the chicks are rounded up for their dinner

Throughout the breeding season, a small team of DOC rangers and volunteers monitor the penguin nesting grounds, conducting health checks of the chicks to make sure they are well fed and gaining weight.

Aviva Stein (Zoologist), Leith Thomson (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust Ranger), Eiren Sweetman (DOC volunteer) and Guy Brannigan (DOC Trainee Ranger), weighing yellow-eyed penguin chicks in the Catlins.

Aviva Stein (Zoologist), Leith Thomson (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust Ranger), Eiren Sweetman (DOC volunteer) and Guy Brannigan (DOC Trainee Ranger), weighing yellow-eyed penguin chicks in the Catlins

Those that are showing signs of starvation or other ailments are removed from the nest where needed and taken to safe havens like Penguin Place till they fatten up and are ready for release.

DOC Trainee Ranger Guy Brannigan with four underweight yellow-eyed penguin chicks in the Catlins, on their way to Penguin Place. These chicks lost up to 1kg and would have died before fledging if left in the wild.

DOC Trainee Ranger Guy Brannigan with four underweight yellow-eyed penguin chicks, on their way to Penguin Place. These chicks lost up to 1 kg and would have died before fledging if left in the wild

Penguin Place guide Tama Taiti hand feeding one of the juvenile penguins.

Penguin Place guide Tama Taiti hand feeding one of the juvenile penguins

Feeding 80 hungry beaks is a big job. It takes two keepers three hours twice a day to hand feed all of the penguin hospital’s current patients – and they’re consuming up to 80 kilos of fish per day! Plus, because they’re still growing, these young patients need fish that’s full of protein and other vitamins, preferably small whole fish with blood, guts and bones.

Thankfully some generous partners have come to the aid of Penguin Place this year. Talleys Nelson contributed an emergency supply of one tonne of pilchard; and seafood company Sanford Limited has just agreed to provide an ongoing donation of up to six tonnes per year.

DOC doesn’t run its own facilitates for providing the specialist care that’s needed to rehabilitate sick or injured wildlife. We work in partnership with a number of specialist organisations like Penguin Place, who have permits from DOC to care for native species. These organisations play a really important role in conservation. So next time you’re in Dunedin pop by, join a tour or make a donation, and show your support.

Fresh from a swim in the Penguin Place pool.

Fresh from a swim in the Penguin Place pool

Read more here: Fish needed for starving penguin chicks – 18 February 2014, DOC media release

One response to Feed the penguins: Generous partnerships provide for hungry chicks

  1. 

    That makes me sad -_-╯▽╰⊙_⊙@_@~_~T_T^_^囧*^_^*≧▽≦>_<︶︿︶∩_∩→_→^o^╯▽╰