Top Six Facts about Little Fairy Penguins

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fairy-penguin-2016The world’s smallest penguin, the Little (or Fairy) Penguin – Eudyptula minor, lives at the heart of Broken Bay on Lion Island Nature Reserve, which is the sphinxlike island – prohibited to people –  seen from Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park’s West Head lookout.

How much do you know about the local Little Penguins? Here is Sydney OutBack’s list of top 6 facts:

  1. Little Penguins are muscly, highly-active seabirds, only around 30cm tall, camouflaged by a dark teal blue back, head and wings (and white underbelly and throat)

    Credit: ABC News

    Credit: ABC News

  2. The penguin is diurnal, spending the majority of each day in the surface waters of Sydney OutBack within a 15 km radius of its island home, feeding on its-own-body-weight worth of small fish, squid and krill! This gluttony (of sorts) may attribute to the lumbering waddle of little groups of penguins as they return to land, resting at dusk before a justified night’s sleep in their nests
  3. While not endangered, several colonies near major metropolitan centers are threatened, including those at Lion Island Nature Reserve, which the largest colony in Sydney. In recent years, it has experienced a dramatic drop in breeding pairs by around a third, understood to be caused by weed infestations on the delicate terrain and possibly water rats co-habiting the restricted-access island
  4. Little Penguins are the only species of penguin to breed in Australia and have found themselves overwhelmed as prey to both native (such as snakes, goannas, sea eagles) and introduced predators (such as foxes domestic cats and dogs) making them largely dependent on human intervention and protection to achieve their average lifespan of 6-7 years – and for the colony’s literal survival. (Interventions on Lion Island Nature Reserve include installation of custom-designed nesting/breeding boxes, environmental rehabilitation of native plant species and restricted access, all managed by NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and Taronga Zoo with local bush care groups and researchers.)fairy-penguin2-090415
  5. Nesting from April, a monogamous breeding pair will brood its chick for up to five weeks before it takes to sea in early winter at around 8-9 weeks old; death of a parent during this period – for whatever reason – will most certainly result in death of the chick. Kids are the reason breeding pairs stay together; a significant proportion (at least a quarter) are only faithful whilst hatching eggs and brooding a chick, before changing mates before the next season.fairy-penguin-090415
  6. Little Penguins are excellently adapted to life in the water, preening their feathers with a tiny drop of oil from a special gland above the tail (to be waterproof) and blessed with a third eyelid, described by some as being like a windscreen wiper, to protect eyes underwater and sweep sand and other irritations away.

Younger visitors, especially, on Sydney OutBack tours are fascinated to learn about the secretive Little Penguins on Lion Island, which they can see from West Head Lookout and you can read more online at To learn more about Sydney OutBack’s Wilderness and Aboriginal Explorer Tour and Cruise, just click here.

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Our tours are also part of Tourism Australia’s Indigenous Tourism Champions Program (ITCP), recognizing that we offer a quality experience that that meets the needs and expectations of international visitors.


Photos by Sydney OutBack of Little Penguins Swimming at the Taronga Zoo enclosure, Sydney.

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