New Zealand's Sub-Antarctic Islands - 2008

It is interesting to learn that all the crested penguin species populations in the world are faring much better than the other types. Their numbers are large and stable. They regularly breed, nest and fledge their chicks successfully. At this point, the ornithologists who study penguins have no generally acceptable explanation for this phenomenon. The cresteds live in most of the same places that other penguins occupy so it would seem that food supply wouldn’t explain it, nor would predation, or habitat loss. The crested penguins all breed in the subantarctic islands and a few other isolated spots. Some rockhoppers breed on the Antarctic Peninsula, and the Fiordland breeds on the extreme south of the South Island as well as on some nearby islands. All these breeds are colonial and fiercely territorial. They mate for life and always return to their own “hatching” place. They are all characterized by the flashy yellow or orange crests on the sides of their heads. Some of these jaunty feathers are erect, some droopy, others swept back from the eyes, but all are pronounced and amusing. Their bills are also red or orange and their eyes are red or red-brown. These birds spend half of the year at sea and the other half tending their reproductive responsibilities on land and then about month later coming back for the annual molt they must undergo along with all species of penguins. They are long-lived and usually do not begin to breed until their 5 year of life. Two eggs are laid but usually only the second ever hatches. If the first does happen to hatch, it usually dies within a week of that event. Both sexes feed the chick but rather oddly in that they do not feed one another even though each sits for long periods with the eggs and the newly hatched checks without food for itself. After about 4-5 weeks of being fed at the nest, all the chicks in the colony come together to form a crèche (nursery) where they live about 2-3 weeks being fed by their own parents only. In size, the cresteds range from the Macaronis who are the largest at 28” and 10-15 lbs. down to the Rockhoppers who are only 20 inches and weigh no more than 5-6 lbs. Snares and Fjordlands are 22” high and weigh 5-6 lbs. We did not see the Royal (28” but only 9-11 lbs) or the Erect Crested (26” and 8-10 lbs.) since we did not visit the islands on which they nest.

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