Q & A

How do you tell whether a penguin is male or female?

Male and female penguins look the same, but scientists can tell them apart using a combination of head and feet measurements. Males tend to be slightly bigger.

What makes the feathers waterproof?

Penguin feathers are short and stiff and lock making the birds waterproof. Anything that damages the feathers – like oil or other contaminants which interfere with the interlocking and the natural oils produced by the birds – will mean that the feathers will lose their water proofing. Birds cannot return to the sea if this happens as they would get wet to the skin and very cold. There are techniques that can be used to clean the feathers of the contaminants and make them waterproof again – but this requires human help.

What happens to its partner when a yellow-eyed penguin dies?

The partner will normally find another mate. Yellow-eyed penguins are very faithful to their mates and each breeding season over 90% of pairs will re-unite.

What happens to the chicks if the parents die?

Unfortunately, in most cases the chicks will die; if only one parent dies, the surviving adult will usually be able to raise the chicks on their own. Sometimes – if the chicks are lucky and are found by conservation workers, they will be taken to a rehabilitation facility to be fed until they fledge and go to sea.

How can the public help the yellow-eyed penguin?

The public can help hoiho in many different ways. Keeping disturbance to a minimum by keeping your distance from birds on the beach and not taking dogs into penguin habitat is an easy way to help. Reduce, re-use, recycle and dispose of all rubbish carefully. Think about what you put down your drains. Buy fish that is caught using penguin-friendly methods, rather than with set-nets.

If you do see a penguin that is injured or unwell or that is being harassed please call the DOC hotline immediately.

Why do they have yellow eyes?

The colour of the eye is a continuation of the colour band around the head. For the first year of their lives, yellow-eyed penguins do not have yellow eyes, they are grey, and neither do they have a yellow band around their head. The colour yellow is caused by a chemical called carotene which is also high in vitamin A. It is the pigment that gives the colour to things like carrots and tomatoes, but it is also found in small quantities in small sea creatures. A study on the importance of the yellow eye and feather colour in yellow-eyed penguins  found that those birds that had deeper yellow colour tended to rear more chicks than those that were very pale, which suggest that these birds were better at catching food than those with pale eyes…”

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