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.
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).
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 “noise shouter” 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 from 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?
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