Richard Henry of Resolution Island writing in the Otago Witness in 1896, described these penguins at nesting times: “They must come in thousands, perhaps at night, for we seldom see them in the water, though the bush is just full of them near the shore. In quiet places — little caves in the rocks above the tide — are crowded, and as we pass by in the boat we can see them sitting in pairs or standing in rows like soldiers.
“When we go into a cave for eggs the idlers scuttle away first, then most of the hatchers — all rushing and tumbling over each other in their silly hurry, and most of them screaming and squalling like geese with colds, while some are grunting like pigs. The fools never think of going into the water, where they would be quite safe from us, but huddle up in a narrow place as tight as they can crush, and all the outsiders are hammering with their fins to drive them in tighter. And they can hammer — at the rate of about 300 strokes a minute! It is a regular clatter, and they can make this with one wing - while using the other as a prop.
“Of course we have nearly forgotten the taste of hen eggs, so the penguin eggs suit us right enough if they are not too stale. They are very easy to boil, because it does not matter whether they are on for three minutes or six, they all come out the same, and they are twice as large as hen eggs”.
The nesting colonies, according to Henry, are always near fresh water which he often saw them drinking. “Some birds will go a quarter of a mile into the bush to find water, sometimes up a steep gully. One of the requirements of a nest appears to be a dark place where the young ones can get out of the light to avoid sandflies.” Henry said that they make their nests in all sorts of places in the bush, hollows at the roots of trees or under clumps of bush flax. He also observed that there were many families of Weka staying close to the penguins in the hope of stealing eggs or young ones from the nests and that he had to break his dog from hunting them.
Since Richard Henry wrote about the “thousands”, the Fiordland crested has declined significantly in numbers to 2000–3000 pairs with a status of endangered. Wekas and dogs remain a problem along with human disturbance and mustelids. However, another early writer, Charles Edward Douglas, observed, “They are rather formidable birds when on shore for a dog — that don’t know how to tackle. I have seen a valorous king(crested) penguin, with its back to a rock, keep at bay three dogs, and a man had better take care his fingers don’t get too that formidable beak.
“Its a wonderful thing to see a penguin coming through the surf. How he manages to dodge or dive under seas and escape being dashed on the rocks, is only known to themselves. A grebe as a diver is nowhere with him. Out at sea, the penguin swims very low and looks at a distance like a sick or waterlogged duck, and on land their gait is more amusing than graceful. They come ashore (in July/August) in some places in hundreds, and generally at night and proceed inland, at once marching straight over everything, like a kiwi in a hut. And if a tent is pitched on the beach, with a door facing the sea they march right and try to get through the back. Their cry is like the wail of a baby and is weird and disagreeable at night when a fellow wants to sleep. Any man contemplating matrimony ought to spend a month or two among the penguins, and will have some idea what is ahead of him”.
Most of the penguins breed on the remote coastline of South Westland and on islands in Fiordland. Chicks are brooded and guarded by the male, who fasts, and occasionally by the female during feeding visits, until they are about three weeks old. Chicks then come together in creches where they are fed by both parents. Adults eat mainly squid, octopus and krill and small fish.
Other common names: —
Pokotiwha, crested penguin, New Zealand penguin.
60 cm., 4 kg., upper parts dark bluish grey, broad yellow droopy eyebrow stripe, orange bill.
Where to find: —
Found in South Westland and Fiordland.
Credit for the photograph: —
Illustration description: —
Proceedings of the Zoological Society, 1888, artist, Smit, J.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the
Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Otago Witness, October 22, 1896, Among the penquins at nesting time.
Hill, S. & J., Richard Henry of Resolution Island, John McIndoe, 1987.
Pascoe, John, Mr. Explorer Douglas, 1957.
Page date & version: —
Thursday, 14 October, 2010; ver2009v1