Yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes)

Also known as: the 'Hoiho'
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderSphenisciformes
FamilySpheniscidae
GenusMegadyptes (1)
SizeLength: 65 – 68 cm (2)
Weight5 – 8 kg (2)

Classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1).

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).

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

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).

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).

The yellow-eyed penguin may be the rarest penguin in the world. The coastal forests of their habitat, particularly of mainland New Zealand, have been destroyed to make way for development and agriculture. Introduced sheep and cattle pose a threat as they can trample on penguin nests and overgraze the area, destroying further habitat (2). In 1986 and 1990 there were two major population crashes, the causes of which remain a mystery (6). The other major threat to the yellow-eyed penguin comes from introduced mammalian predators such as ferrets, cats, rats and dogs; juvenile penguins or adults during their moult phase are extremely vulnerable to predation and numbers have been decimated over the years (2).

The New Zealand Department of Conservation Hoiho Recovery Plan is currently underway, which aims to promote the recovery of this species and to involve local people in their conservation (5). A number of schemes are already in place including the protection of certain key habitats and the removal of predators. The Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust has introduced a number of important conservation initiatives and research, including the banning of dogs from certain sensitive beaches (2). The Trust is careful to work extremely closely with local residents over these sensitive issues (2). Every effort is being made to secure the future of one of New Zealand’s avian treasures.

For more information on the yellow-eyed penguin see:

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact: arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2008)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust (August, 2003)
    http://www.yellow-eyedpenguin.org.nz/
  3. International Penguin Conservation Work Group (August, 2003)
    http://www.penguins.cl/yellow-penguins.htm
  4. New Zealand Penguins (February, 2008)
    http://www.penguin.net.nz/species/yep/index.html
  5. NZ Department of Conservation (August, 2003)
    http://www.doc.govt.nz/templates/podcover.aspx?id=33022
  6. BirdLife International (August, 2003)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=3859&m=0