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Phillip Island Fairy Penguins

Jane has an interest in style, architecture, art, fashion, film, and all things vintage. She also fancies curiosities in the animal world.

Fairy penguins are the smallest penguins in the world.

Fairy penguins are the smallest penguins in the world.


At just 40 centimetres, the fairy penguin is the pygmy of the penguin world and is found only along the southern coast of Australia and New Zealand, away from the ice and snow usually associated with penguin habitat. The most famous colony in Australia can be found at Phillip Island, 140 kilometres southeast of Melbourne, in Victoria.

An average adult penguin weighs around one kilogram and lives for around seven years in the wild, although there have been reported cases of a 20-year lifespan. Equipped with the charm and personality most penguins seem to possess and because of their relative rarity, fairy penguins have become vital to the Phillip Island economy. Fortunately for the penguins, this means that extra effort and resources are expended on ensuring their survival.

Fairy (or Little) Penguins

Until recently, the penguin colony at Phillip Island had always been known as fairy penguins, but lately there seems to have been a shift to the name "little penguins". Whether or not this is due to some form of sensitive political correctness I cannot say, but I stubbornly prefer "fairy penguins," so that's the term I'll be using. They are also sometimes known as "little blue penguins", and in Maori they are called kororā. Their formal, scientific name is Eudyptula minor.

Breeding Habits of the Fairy Penguin

Male penguins are very flamboyant, noisy courters, singing and performing for females during the breeding season from February to August. The song is very individual and ranges from a low bass rumble to a trumpeting cry, and is accompanied by a dance of flipper, beak and body movements. Only one mate is chosen, but not necessarily for life.

Sensibly, parenting is a shared activity between the couples; both male and female will share incubation duties, and when the chicks are hatched, (usually two) parents take it in turns to hunt for food.

Unfortunately, only fifteen percent of chicks reach adult maturity, which is at two years, but most of those who do will return to their colony to breed. Due to their small size young penguins are vulnerable to predators, and when food supplies dwindle they are often found dead, having been washed up on the beach.

After breeding, the penguins will feed as much as they can to condition themselves for moulting, as during this time they neither eat nor drink.

Life at Sea

Eudyptula is Greek for "good little diver" and indeed, like most penguins, the fairy penguin turns from awkward land waddler to elegant swimmer in the water. They are well-adapted for the marine environment and their streamlined shape, webbed feet, and flippers allow for securing prey in shallow, short dives.The penguins have a kind of inbuilt wetsuit, as their feathers are oily due to oil glands in their tail, keeping them dry.

They also have claws, useful for digging and climbing slippery rocks; large eyes with flattened corneas so that they can see clearly both under and above water; and retinas which are adapted for spotting movement in poor light.

To protect themselves from predators, mainly sharks and seals, they swim in packs known as "rafts", which are sometimes up to 300 strong.

On top of these handy features, fairy penguins are very cleverly colour-camouflaged in that they are dark above the water to blend in with the sea and light below the water to emulate surface reflections from above. The fairy penguin is an indigo blue - as opposed to black and silvery white - on the underbelly.

These attributes are necessary as the penguins need to eat 25% of their bodyweight merely to keep in condition — more when moulting or feeding young.

The penguins are remarkable little battlers and swim very long distances when they have to. Normally they swim between 15 km and 50 km daily, but when times are tough and their food supply of fish, squid, krill and small crustaceans dwindle, they have been known to go much farther.

Fairy penguins are elegant swimmers.

Fairy penguins are elegant swimmers.

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Land Rights

For many years, the Phillip Island fairy penguins were compelled to share their habitat at Summerland Beach on the southwestern shore of the island with human holiday dwellers who had built their beach houses in amongst the burrows, bringing their pets and cars with them. This was proving to be so devastating to the penguin community that in recent times the land has been reclaimed by a government conservation department and returned to the original inhabitants. Thus the humans have had to evacuate the area and every one of the beach houses was bought up and torn down. It is, as far as I know, the first time in Australian history that a human community has been displaced to make way for another species.

In the following video, presumably taken by a tourist, you can get a close-up peek at a fairy penguin and see something of the deep indigo blue colour of their upper feathers. They really are a beautiful little penguin. Note the affection between mates, although it seems a little one-sided here.

Up Close and Personal

The Penguin Parade

Fairy penguins can be seen in the wild during their daily sunset parade at Phillip Island, when around 300 to 750 of them waddle up from the sea across the beach to return to their burrows on the mainland. The penguin parade has become a major tourist attraction in Australia, second only to Uluru in popularity. Phillip Island attracts about 3.5 million visitors a year from various parts of the globe, many of whom have come to witness this penguin ritual. They are quite the celebrities, however sunglasses are unnecessary as flash photography from the tourist paparazzi is not allowed.

Sunset Parade: Penguins coming up from the beach at Phillip Island.

Sunset Parade: Penguins coming up from the beach at Phillip Island.

Phillip Island

The Island was named after the first governor of New South Wales, Arthur Phillip, though before that it had been inhabited for thousands of years by the Bunurong people, who called the island Beang Gurt and who are thought to have come to the area about 40,000 years ago while the island was still attached to the mainland.

The Pinnacles at Phillip Island

The Pinnacles at Phillip Island

Comprising an area of approximately 10,000 hectares, Philip Island has a permanent population of around 7,000, which swells in number during the holiday season. Sixty percent of the area is farmland for the grazing of sheep and cattle, and the remainder is divided between permanent homes, beach houses and wildlife reserves.

Phillip Island is also home to the Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix and serves as a venue for the Superbike World Championships, V8 Supercars, and the Australian Drivers Championships. The racing association dates back to 1928 when it hosted the original Australian Grand Prix.

The 97-kilometre coastline is clean and spectacular, and the Island itself is relatively unspoilt, the powers that be having recognised that its natural features and wildlife are among its chief attractions.

The Nobbies at Phillip Island

The Nobbies at Phillip Island

Further Reading

  • Phillip Island Nature Parks
    Official website of the Phillip Island Penguin Parade. Phillip Island Nature Parks is renowned as Australias most popular natural wildlife attraction. Only 90 minutes from Melbourne, the Nature Parks is an island adventure featuring spectacular coast

© 2010 Jane Bovary


Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on August 09, 2012:

They are! Thankyou.

annmackiemiller on August 09, 2012:

they are gorgeous!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on April 26, 2012:


Jorden on April 26, 2012:

this website is really cute !!!! :)

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on July 06, 2011:

They are gorgeous. Thanks very much ella

ellahall2011 on July 05, 2011:

Oh lovely penguins!Now I know there are other types of penguins-the fairy penguins. I learn something new. Thanks for this wonderful hub.

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on December 19, 2010:

No worries..

nicki on December 19, 2010:

Thanks for the pictures

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on December 13, 2010:

Hey Micky...lovely to see you cycle by.

Micky Dee on December 13, 2010:

Thank you for this wonderful hub for the Fairy Penguins! I love this hub! God bless!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on November 22, 2010:

Thanks's nice to see your face in here! (or half of it)

Susan Mills from Indiana on November 21, 2010:

Great hub!

You're bookmarked for use in our homeschool extras. I may have to have "hub hour" everyday with all this interesting stuff.

This is great. Thank you!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on November 20, 2010:

Thanks Charlie...;)

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on November 20, 2010:

Cute is a pretty apt description Carolina! Thanks

ralwus on November 20, 2010:

Ah yes, David Attenboughro did a great job introducing me to these little fellows. Thanks Jane. Great read. Charlie

carolina muscle from Charlotte, North Carolina on November 19, 2010:

I hesitate to call any wild animal cute, but.. CUTE!!!!

Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on November 17, 2010:

Rod, yes it's amazing the change from awkward to graceful once they hit the water. I'm amazed how far they can walk on those tiny little legs's a fair way from the sea to to the burrows.


Jane Bovary (author) from The Fatal Shore on November 17, 2010:

Toby, I suspected something like that. How condescending! And frankly, just really silly.

I love seals...I should write about them sometime. Thanks for your thoughts.

Rod Marsden from Wollongong, NSW, Australia on November 17, 2010:

Nice Hub. I saw a penguin on the south coast skimming through the water close to the rocks where I was fishing some years ago. It was a small penguin but probably not a Fairy Penguin. The thing about it though was that it moved as if it were jet propelled. People tend to not know or to forget that penguins may look clumsy and comical on land but put them in the water and it is a completely different story.

Toby Hansen on November 17, 2010:

Excellent Hub, Jane! And so good to see that I am not the only one who refuses to bow to PC thuggery and call the beautiful creatures "little" penguins.

The attempted name change came from PC thug pollies who decided that the GLBTI community took offence at the use of the word "fairy."

As a tranny, I can tell you that I am offended by the attempt to stop calling them fairy penguins!

PI is 140 kilometres from Melbourne? It seemed a lot further than that as child! I spent a lot of summers down there.

Any chance of a Hub on the inhabitants of the Nobbies?

This gets voted up!

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