Interesting Facts About the Yellow-Eyed Penguin

The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the largest penguin species.
The yellow-eyed penguin is one of the largest penguin species. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

The yellow-eyed penguin is a large species which has its own personal genus in the penguin family. Other than the little penguin, it is the only species that does not share its genus with any other penguin. The penguin's name in the native language of its range is hoiho, which means noise shouter in Maori.


The yellow-eyed penguin is the fourth largest species of penguin. It grows to around 2 feet in height and weighs up to 13 lbs. It has a slender build with a mainly black and white plumage. Yellow feathers around its head, running back from the eyes, give the appearance of a golden crown. Males and females are almost identical in appearance and size but males tend to have slightly larger heads and feet. It is studied closely by science as it is likely one of the oldest penguin species in existence.

Habitat and Range

The yellow-eyed penguin is considered the rarest of all penguin species and is found in only a select few areas. The birds nest in areas of the South Island of New Zealand and Stewart Island, as well as Auckland and Campbell Island. Its preferred habitat is unusual to penguins as it nests in forested areas beyond the beaches, secluded from other individuals, and is the least social species of penguin. Nests are usually built at the foot of a tree or with a fallen log as a backdrop.

Diet and Predators

Like all penguins, it hunts in the ocean using agile swimming to catch prey underwater. It feeds mainly on fish and favors species such as red cod, blue cod, ahuru and opal fish. The species is at risk from predators both in and out of the ocean. Seals and sharks present danger from the water, while wildcats, ferrets, stoats and dogs pose a threat near nesting sites.

Life Cycle

The yellow-eyed penguin mates for life, maintaining the same partner until one dies or mating fails. Courtships begin around May every year with nest building starting around August. When the birds finally mate, the female lays two eggs after around 12 days. The nests are secluded from other penguins, often a large distance from any other nests. Incubation takes between 39 and 51 days with both parents taking turns on the nest. Once the eggs hatch, one parent remains with the chicks for up to six weeks while the other hunts. Chicks usually leave the nest in mid-February. The penguin lives on average 20 years in the wild.

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