The little penguin is the smallest species in the penguin family, and it is primarily found off the coast of New Zealand or Australia. They average about 17 inches (44 cm) in height, and they only weigh about 2 pounds (1 kg). In terms of color, they range from a grayish shade to a dark blue with a white underside, and a sub-species called the white flippered penguin is known for white markings on the wings. Other common names for the species are fairy penguin or blue penguin, and the scientific name is Eudyptula minor.
When hunting, the little penguin makes short little dives mostly in shallow areas. Its main sources of food are small fish like sardines, but they also eat squid and crab larvae, among other things. The birds tend to do most of their hunting during the day, and they generally stay pretty close to the shoreline. At night, they come out of the water and sleep in rock crevices or burrows on shore.
The little penguin lives in large flocks with smaller sub-groupings. In the day while they are fishing, the larger group will be together. At night, they return to the smaller sub-groups for sleep.
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The timing of the breeding season for the little penguin varies significantly depending on geography. They generally breed in late summer. These birds have monogamous mating pairs, and the pairs normally stay together for life. The males arrive at the breeding locations first, and they put on a courtship display. There are often multiple clutches laid in a single breeding season, with each clutch containing approximately two eggs.
The incubation period for each clutch is between 35 and 40 days. Males and females both do their part in the job of incubation. The chicks are totally helpless for about three weeks, and they're watched constantly during that span. Then there is a five-week period where they have part-time supervision, and the parents still help with feeding them. Once they reach about eight-weeks-old, the chicks are sent away from the nest and have to survive on their own.
The average lifespan of the little penguin is between six and eight years. They have quite a few natural predators, including sharks, whales and seals. Large predatory birds can sometimes attack them on land, especially the smaller ones, and certain mammal species like cats and foxes that aren't native to the penguin’s habitat have taken a heavy toll as well. They are not currently listed as an endangered species, but there are some populations in certain areas that have suffered severe losses.