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New Zealand Penguins

Snares Penguin

Eudyptes robustus
Breeding Range: Snares Islands, New Zealand
Length: 50cm.
Weight: 3kg
World Population: 30,000 breeding pairs

The Snares crested penguin stands about 40cm and weighs around 3 kilograms. It is very similar to to the Fiordland crested penguin, with which it can be easily confused, particularly at sea.

The head, throat and upperparts are black, and underparts are white. The sulphur-yellow crest starts at the base of the bill, extends over the eye, and droops down the back of the head. The bill is very robust, particularly in the male, and the prominent area of bare skin at its base helps distinguish the Snares from the Fiordland penguin. The Snares may also have some white cheek feathers, however this occurs only in a few individuals, and they do not form lines as in the Fiordland penguin. The eye is red, but not as bright as seen in the Rockhopper. Sexes alike, but male is slightly larger and with a heavier bill. Fledglings have pale chins and short crests.

The Snares crested penguin only breeds on the small Snares Islands (totalling 341 ha). The islands are mostly covered in a forest of the tree daisies Olearia lyalli and Brachyglottis stewartiae. The penguins nest in dense colonies of up to 1500 pairs, usually with part of the colony under vegetation. Because their activity kills the trees and shrubs around them, the colonies slowly move to adjacent vegetated areas and old areas quickly revegetate.

The population is currently estimated to be 30,000 breeding pairs (2000 breeding season). Read an account of the last census here.

The males return to the breeding sites in August. The female follows shortly after and two eggs are laid in late September / early October, the larger "B" egg being laid 4.5 days after the smaller "A" egg. As with most crested penguins, both chicks are seldom raised successfully. Many pairs lose an egg during incubation, and should two eggs hatch, one chick usually dies before the end of the guard stage.

For the first few weeks of life, the chick is guarded by the male and fed by the female. After this, both parents feed the chick and the chick wanders, creching with other chicks if they are nearby, but returning to the nest to be fed. Chicks fledge at 11 weeks. Age at first breeding is thought to be about 6 years of age. Juveniles often straggle to the east coast of the South Island, usually to moult.

Little information is available on what or where Snares crested penguins feed, but crustaceans, cephalapods and fish are known to be included in their diet.

The Snares islands are the only New Zealand subantarctic islands completely free of introduced land mammals, and their accidental introduction would be disastrous. For this reason, the Snares islands are closed to the public. Sea lions and leopard seals are predators of adults and juveniles, while skuas take eggs and chicks. Giant petrels sometimes take fledglings.

Information taken from the New Zealand Penguins web site, where you can find further information.