Yellow Eyed Penguins in New Zealand: World’s Rarest Penguin

We stood quietly in the trench, a hiding hut for humans. Here we waited, and then watched as yellow eyed penguins headed to their nesting boxes. It’s important that these endangered birds remain undisturbed. Watching quietly from our hut, we were so well hidden the penguins didn’t know we were there. Their nesting boxes seemed strategically placed for our viewing, but the animals are completely free. We were lucky that day, as one of the yellow eyed penguins curled up in the nearest nesting box.

The yellow eyed penguin is considered the world's rarest penguin. Photo in New Zealand

The yellow eyed penguin is considered the world's rarest penguin. Photo in New Zealand

Yellow eyed penguins are aptly named for the bright yellow “headband” and their yellow iris, and are thought to be the world’s rarest penguin. They are one of three penguin species that live in New Zealand. We have seen the Fiordland Crested Penguin on the South Island, and we have seen Little Blue Penguins on the North Island (and in Australia).

yellow eyed penguins on the South Island of New Zealand

Photo Credit: New Zealand Department of Conservation

More About these Penguins:

  • Yellow eyed penguins are only found on the south-east coast of New Zealand’s South Island and on a few of the nearby smaller islands (Stewart Island, Auckland Islands and Campbell Island).
  • Their Maori name is Hoiho, meaning โ€œnoise shouterโ€ because its piercing calls can be heard over the crashing waves.
  • They are endangered. The current estimate is about 4000 yellow eyed penguins remaining, with only about 400 breeding pairs on the mainland (South Island). This is up from 127 breeding pairs in the early 90s due to conservation efforts.

Practical Information for Yellow Eyed Pengin Viewing:

  • The best time to view yellow eyed penguins is from 3pm to sunset, while they return from the sea, or at sunrise when they head out.
  • Always stay out of view, and stay off beaches that they frequent after 3pm, or anytime that penguins are present.
  • Bring binoculars.
  • The birds pictured above are wild. I photographed the first two while on a tour fromย Penguin Place in Dunedin. There we were educated on the birds and then escorted to the hide boxes. This is a guaranteed way to see penguins.
  • We have since learned that there are several free viewing huts along the coast. They can be found at Bushy Beach, Katiki Point, Nugget Point Reserve, and Sandfly Bay. The first three are each within 5 minute walks from their car park. Sandfly Bay is a 30 minute walk.
  • We also saw yellow eyed penguins at Curio Bay in the Catlins, but they were too far away to get decent photos.

Learn more about about these endangered birds from the Department of Conservation: Yellow-eyed penguin/hoiho.

Have you seen yellow eyed penguins? What’s the most interesting animals you have seen in the wild?

If you enjoyed learning about Yellow Eyed Penguins, please share out on social media and pin it:

Critically endangered yellow eyed penguins on the South Island of New Zealand

This post is also linked to BeThere2Day for Wordless Wednesday on Tuesday, Our World Tuesdays, Wednesdays Around the World at Photographing New Zealand, and Outdoor Wednesday at A Southern Daydreamer.

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Comments

  1. says

    Very cool photos. The only penguins we see around here are in an aquarium. Probably the most interesting animals we’ve seen in the wild were the long horn sheep we saw while hiking in Glacier National Park in Montana.

    • says

      The current estimate is about 4000 yellow eyed penguins remaining, with only about 400 breeding pairs on the mainland (South Island). This is up from 127 breeding pairs in the early 90s due to conservation efforts. They are endangered and considered to be the rarest penguins in the world. To the best of my knowledge, there are none in captivity. (I added this to the facts on the page, thanks for your question).

  2. Karren Haller says

    What fun to learn of the yellow eyed lil guys, I had not heard of them either, I have seen many documentaries but not of them. Thanks for sharing and stopping by #OMHGWW this week.

    Have a great week!
    Karren

  3. says

    I wonder how many are left? Are they endangered? They are beautiful and no I have never seen any except on your blog! Isn’t it neat that we can learn about the world through our blogger friend’s eyes? Have a great week! Teresa

  4. says

    Hi Rhonda – aren’t they amazing … and so aptly named. Nature is wonderful .. giving us so much and letting us have the brains to be able to think about and appreciate some of them. I love African animals … warthogs are my favourite – they have their tails in the air like aerials …

    Lovely photos … cheers Hilary

    • says

      Yes nature is amazing. I never really thought about how great it is that we can process and appreciate so much. As for warthogs, I don’t think I have ever seen one outside of photos.

    • says

      Compared to Empire Penguins, the ones most people think of when they visualize penguins, yes they are small. But I think they are pretty average sized for a penguin. Way smaller than a big horn sheep ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. says

    What a beautiful experience! There really is something magical about letting nature do its thing. I’ve seen a little blue penguin out at Piha before, but usually the animals I see in the wild are our beautiful native birds.

  6. says

    Hi Rhonda! No, I’ve never seen yellow-eyed penguins. I didn’t know they existed, so thanks for this. Hmm. Scariest wild thing? Definitely the crocs in the Yellow River in Kakadu, the Northern Territory. Those suckers would have jumped in the boat with us. Boy! Are they long! Know who’d win in a tussle.

    Denise :-0

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge about these rare beauties. They’re so rare I’ve never heard of them, which is cool, because now I can say that I learned something new today.

  8. says

    Those penguins are so adorable! The most interesting animals I’ve seen in the wild were hippos in Botswana when I was much younger. We were in a little boat and suddenly this huge hippo emerged from the water a few metres away, stared at us for a bit, got bored and swam off. Until then, I had no real concept for just how big they were and the feeling of excitement and awe has stayed with me for 20 years. It was wonderful.

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