Last Thursday’s arrival count marked the end of the Middle Island Little Penguin breeding season and arrival counts. Nineteen Little Penguins were counted, continuing the downward trend of the last few arrival count numbers and indicating the start of the annual moult. This was confirmed by Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare volunteers who conducted a survey of artificial nesting boxes on Middle Island this week and found four adult Little Penguins at various stages of their moult.
The four moulting Little Penguins were quite large, weighing between 1.5 kg and 1.8 kg (compared to the average weight for the species of 1.2kg). This weight gain is part of their preparation for moulting and is a result of their time spent at sea feeding on small school fish, squid, and krill. During moulting each adult grows new feathers and sheds all of their old feathers. While this is occurring the feathers are not water proof, and therefore the Little Penguins stay ashore (and do not feed) for two to three weeks until the moult is complete and feathers are oiled. During this time they are at higher risk from land based predators, highlighting the importance of the Maremma project in protecting the Middle Island Little Penguins.
When the Little Penguins have finished their annual moult they will spend a proportion of the next few months at sea feeding, recovering from the moult and gaining condition.
Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group, Warrnambool City Council and NGT would like to thank all the volunteers who have helped out with the Little Penguin monitoring project this season. It was a fantastic group effort and the results paint a good picture for the Little Penguins of Middle Island; generating information that is critical for managing this important population into the future.