Little Penguins (or Blue Penguins, Korora, Eudyptula minor or even, in Australia, Fairy Penguins) are the most common penguin to be found in New Zealand. They have numerous colonies ranging from a few nest to several thousands and they are found all around our shorelines.Despite being the most numerous penguin species in the New Zealand region there are concerns about population decline throughout the range. Some areas of New Zealand are of greater concern than others. Little penguins are restricted to colony sites that have easy access to the sea, where there is good soil to build burrows (or small caves) and where the right food is found in inshore waters.
One area of New Zealand that has been little studied for Little penguins is along the west coast of the South Island. Many colonies along this coastline are threatened with encroaching development by humans as well as a increasingly busy coastal highway. A recent study by Lincoln University researchers Jasmine Braidwood and Kerry-Jayne Wilson along with Janine Kunz (Georg-August University)examined which features of the habitat were important for burrow use and breeding success along the West Coast.
Braidwood, as part of her Master of International Nature Conservation, collected data from 167 burrows and artificial nest boxes spread through five colonies in the Buller region as well as 110 burrows across three colonies in South Westland, over three years. Information on numbers of eggs, chicks and adults seen was recorded as well as distance from the high-tide line, track/road and edge of scrub, vegetation type, and terrain.
Over the two years, Little penguins were found in 1/3 to 1/4 of all burrows available, and breeding success increased over the period and was broadly similar to other parts of New Zealand. Most colonies were found in regenerating coastal forests and most burrows were with 25m of the sea. Of most interest was the lack of obvious impact of human activity on breeding success which gives some optimism for the future. The authors worked closely with the West Coast Blue Penguin Trust and hope that this study will provide information for improving the placement of nest boxes in Little penguin colonies in the future to best ensure good breeding success.