Overview

Brief Summary

Description

The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the most endangered of all penguin species (3). These birds are slate grey with a white breast. As their common name suggests they have yellow eyes, accentuated by the yellow band that runs from the eyes around the back of the head (4). Males and females are identical but juveniles lack the yellow eyes and bands of older birds (2). The Maori name for these birds is 'Hoiho', which means 'the noise shouter' in reference to their shrill call (5).
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Biology

Yellow-eyed penguins are not particularly sociable, breeding in spaced-out territories in the forest rather than the close-knit colonies of other species (3). Pairs are monogamous and stay together for life. The breeding season is particularly long, beginning with courtship in August; the clutch of two eggs is laid in mid-September to mid-October on a nest constructed from sticks (2). Both parents help to incubate the eggs, which can take up to two months. For the next six weeks the adults will take it in turns to stay with the chick whilst the other forages for food (2). Penguins moult once a year but during this time they need to remain on land while the feathers are replaced (3). The three-week moult takes place in February and March following the fledging of the chicks. Penguins need to accumulate considerable resources before this takes place, as they can loose up to four kilograms of body weight during the moult (2). Yellow-eyed penguins feed on a variety of fish including red cod, opal fish, sprat and silversides. They tend to forage within 15 kilometres (2) of the shore and can dive up to 160 metres (3).
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Distribution

Range Description

Megadyptes antipodes is endemic to New Zealand where it breeds on the South Island's south-east coast (523 pairs in 2010-2011 [D. Houston in litt. 2012]), Stewart Island and offshore islands of Stewart Island (220-400 pairs in 1994, dropping to 178 pairs in 1999-2001 [Massaro and Blair 2003]), Auckland Islands (520-570 pairs) and Campbell Islands (405 pairs) (Moore 2001, D. Houston in litt. 2007). Two severe mortality events in 1986 and 1990 each halved the number of South Island pairs, and in 2004 50% of chicks in South Island were killed by diptheritic stomatisis (D. Houston in litt. 2007). However, numbers have recovered to 1980 levels (D. Houston in litt. 2007). The Catlins population (south-east coast of South Island) may have declined by 75% since the 1940s (Williams 1995, Heather and Robertson 1997). Numbers of individuals on Campbell Island declined between 1987 and 1998 (Moore et al. 2002). Adults are sedentary, but juveniles disperse north as far as the Cook Strait (Marchant and Higgins 1990).

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Yellow-eyed penguins (Megadyptes antipodes) are island endemic and are found in the southern regions of New Zealand, including Stewart Island, South Island, the Otago Peninsula and a few other islands in the same region. These penguins are not migratory and stay in this range year round. They only leave the island to hunt off the coast of New Zealand and the respective islands they inhabit.

Biogeographic Regions: australian (Native )

Other Geographic Terms: island endemic

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Range

Auckland I., Stewart I., Campbell I. and South I. (New Zealand).
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Historic Range:


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Range

Endemic to New Zealand, breeding takes place on the southeast coast of South Island and on Foveaus Strait, Stewart, Auckland and Campbell Islands (6).
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Physical Description

Morphology

Yellow-eyed penguins are relatively large in comparison to other penguins living in similar conditions. Their height ranges from 56 to 78 cm, with an average height of 70 cm. The mass of these penguins ranges from 5 to 8 kg. These physical characteristics make Megadyptes antipodes the largest penguin that does not live in the Antarctic. A defining trait of this particular penguin is their yellow eyes. The characteristic used to distinguish between adult and juvenile penguins is the presence of yellow plumage on the adult's heads. Yellow feathers are not present on juvenile penguins until they molt, around the age of one. Megadyptes antipodes exhibits sexual dimorphism: males have a carotenoid derived ornament. The difference in males and females can be seen in the pigmentation of the head feathers (plumage). Carotenoids are responsible for the bright yellow coloration of the male's head and are hypothesized to be a signal of parental quality, although few studies have been conducted on the subject.

Range mass: 5 to 8 kg.

Range length: 56 to 78 cm.

Average length: 70 cm.

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Type Information

Type for Megadyptes antipodes
Catalog Number: USNM A15655
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): S. Holmes
Locality: Auckland Islands, New Zealand, Australia
  • Type: Peale. 1848. U.S. Exploring Expedition. 8 (mamm. and orn.): 260, pl. lxx, fig.1.
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Type for Megadyptes antipodes
Catalog Number: USNM A15655
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: Male; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): S. Holmes
Locality: Auckland Islands, New Zealand, Australia
  • Type: Peale. 1848. U.S. Exploring Expedition. 8 (mamm. and orn.): 260, pl. lxx, fig.1.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
On islands it usually nests in forest, while in the South Island it tends to nest in scrub remnants (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Nests must have surrounding vegetation that conceals them from visual contact with conspecifics for successful breeding (Seddon and Davis 1989). It is a solitary breeder. Two eggs are laid in mid-September to mid-October, with hatching occurring at the beginning of November. Chicks fledge from mid-February to mid-March (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust in litt. 2009). It feeds primarily on red cod, opal fish, sprat (van Heezik 1990), silversides, ahuru, blue cod and squid (Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust in litt. 2009). The species's generation length is estimated to be 5-7 years (Ellis et al. 1998).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Yellow-eyed penguins inhabit island shorelines in New Zealand. Most of the shore is covered in coastal forest, where the penguins live and nest. These birds are primarily terrestrial and only enter the water to hunt.

Average elevation: 0 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest

Aquatic Biomes: coastal

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Yellow-eyed penguins breed in forest or scrubland, choosing to build nests against rocks or tree trunks, which provide some protection from the elements (2).
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Trophic Strategy

Megadyptes antipodes has a diet that consists mostly of small prey, either juveniles or species whose adults are small. Yellow-eyed penguins are carnivores. Their diet is mainly composed of fishes including opalfish Hemerocoetes monopterygius, red cods Pseudophycis bachus, blue cods Parapercis colias, silversides Argentina elongata and spats Sprattus muelleri. However, they also eat mollusks and some crustaceans including Nototodarus sloani and Nyctiphanes australis, respectively. Most of their hunting occurs off the coast of New Zealand at the edge of the continental shelf, making them marine predators. Their foraging behavior depends on the breeding season. Penguins that have not bred successfully travelled greater distances to hunt. Their trips off shore are relatively shorter than trips of other penguins of a similar size.

Animal Foods: fish; eggs; mollusks; aquatic crustaceans

Primary Diet: carnivore (Piscivore )

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Associations

Plasmodium relictum is a parasite that has been found on wild yellow-eyed penguins. There is not much information on the ecosystem role of Megadyptes antipodes. Their foraging range is off the continental shelf and they are predators to various fish species. When on land, their only major predators are mammals introduced by humans. They are also prey to New Zealand sea lions, but they are not a major component of the sea lion's diet.

Commensal/Parasitic Species:

  • Plasmodium relictum

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Predation is important to all animals and crucial to those animals that are threatened or endangered. Megadyptes antipodes falls under the crucial category because they are a threatened species. The key predators that threaten M. antipodes are terrestrial mammals that were introduced by humans. These predators include ferrets Mustela furo, feral house cats Felis catus, humans, and domestic dogs Canis lupus familiaris. Mustela furo and F. catus are responsible for predation of newly born penguins, while humans and C. lupus familiaris are the only terrestrial mammals that are capable of predation on adult yellow-eyed penguins. However, non-terrestrial predators include New Zealand sea lions Phocarctos hookeri. Yellow-eyed penguins do not have any anti-predator mechanisms against terrestrial mammals because they are a relatively new predator, although their conservation status does help serve as an anti-predator mechanism.

Known Predators:

  • New Zealand sea lions Phocarctos hookeri
  • ferrets Mustela furo
  • feral house cats Felis catus
  • domestic dogs Canis familiaris

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Potential mates communicate acoustically, via shrill calls. Their nest sites are usually well hidden, this call is used for mates to find each other, as well as juveniles. They do not receive much social stimuli from other penguins due to their isolated nature and are easily startled by humans.

Communication Channels: acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

The average lifespan of Megadyptes antipodes is 23 years. Male yellow-eyed penguins typically live longer than females. Predation does not play a big role in determining their lifespan. The factor with the most influence is the amount of breeding, those who do not or cannot breed typically live longer than those that do breed.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
23 years.

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
23 years.

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Reproduction

Megadyptes antipodes is monogamous: a male has one female partner each breeding season. There is a great amount of parental care given by yellow-eyed penguins, which contributes to the monogamous mating system. This species exhibits sexual dimorphism, a difference in secondary characteristics between males and females, responsible for mate selection. In M. antipodes, the sexually dimorphic characteristic is the yellow plumage feathers found on males, females use the color for mate selection. This color pattern is believed to be indicative of mate quality; however, more evidence is required to determine how mates are chosen. Megadyptes antipodes exhibits nesting behavior that influences the social structure of the birds. Their nesting sites are typically very large and isolated. Research indicates that the more isolated the nesting site, the more effective the breeding. Most of their nesting sites are under the cover of surrounding plants, the optimal setting is a coastal forest. These isolated nests are one factor that prevents yellow-eyed penguins from being colonial birds.

Mating System: monogamous

Megadyptes antipodes is a relative of crested penguins and has similar reproductive behavior. Yellow-eyed penguins reproduce during the same breeding season, every year. Their breeding season starts in the middle of August and typically lasts 28 weeks. During this time, penguins find a mate and build a nest where they will lay and incubate their eggs. This species lays only two eggs each year, this is a characteristic shared with other crested penguins. These eggs are laid at the same time, usually in September and October. Unlike many other penguin species, yellow-eyed penguins lay two similarly sized eggs that will both yield viable offspring. In contrast, many penguin species lay eggs of two different sizes. Since both eggs will yield viable offspring, they must incubate both. This is likely due to the amount of the hormone prolactin that is secreted. Once the eggs are laid, they take an average of 43 days to hatch; hatching typically occurs in November, after the incubation period. Juvenile yellow-eyed penguins usually reach sexually maturity after two to three years for females and three to four years for males.

Breeding interval: Yellow-eyed penguins breed annually.

Breeding season: Yellow-eyed penguins breed August through March.

Range eggs per season: 2 to 2.

Range time to hatching: 38 to 54 days.

Average time to hatching: 43 days.

Range fledging age: 3 to 4.5 months.

Average fledging age: 3.5 months.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 2 to 3 years.

Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 3 to 4 years.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Parental care in Megadyptes antipodes is displayed by both the male and female parent. Parental care can be seen in yellow-eyed penguins starting at the incubation period, through the growing of the juvenile, until it reaches about six weeks old. Both the male and female parent takes part in the incubation period. Once the eggs are incubated and hatch, a new form of parental investment begins, involving the protection of the young and providing the necessary resources for them. This period is known as brooding and usually takes about six weeks. Neither the role of protecting the young, nor finding food is reserved for a specific parent; one parent guards the newly hatched penguins, while the other hunts. After this six week brooding period, parental protection is reduced, but provisioning is increased. Juveniles will ultimately fledge and leave the nest area to provide for themselves.

Parental Investment: male parental care ; female parental care ; pre-hatching/birth (Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Male, Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Megadyptes antipodes

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 17
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
EN
Endangered

Red List Criteria
B2b(iii,v)c(iv)

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Houston, D. & McKinlay, B.

Justification
This species is listed as Endangered because it is confined to a very small range when breeding, in which its forest/scrub habitat has declined in quality. Its population has undergone extreme fluctuations and is now thought to be in overall decline.


History
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Endangered (EN)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Vulnerable (VU)
  • Threatened (T)