A middle-sized crested penguin, this bird has white colored under parts and dark slate-grey upper parts. The beak of the Snares crested penguin is darker. The animal exhibits a pale yellow band, stretching from the base of the beak above the eyes, turning into a bushy crest, consisting of feathers, hanging down the sides of the animal's hind crown. The throat and chin of the penguin are black, and the eyes are deep red. Pale pink skin borders the base of the brownish-red bill. The legs are short and the feet are webbed, colored in pale pink and equipped with black claws. Males and females look alike, though male penguins are noticeably larger than females, having thicker beaks. Juveniles of this species are distinguished from adults by thinner and reduced crest, brownish beak as well as black patches on white throat. The thick first down of the chicks is dark brown above and whitish below; the second down is alike except with the pure white under parts.
These penguins are most frequently found on the Snares Islands, located off the southern coast of New Zealand, where they typically inhabit sheltered beaches. They can also be seen along the coasts of Tasmania, southern Australia, the Chatham Islands and the Stewart Island: these are areas with moderate climate and necessary vegetation, where the birds roost and nest.
These penguins are diurnal breeders. They breed in colonies and forage in small flocks. In March-April, adult penguins undergo molting at their breeding colonies. Non-breeding penguins, mainly young individuals, molt from January to March on coastal rocks above landing sites, on the edges of their colony. When molting, Snares penguins stay on land for about 3 - 4 weeks. Occasionally, these penguins are very aggressive and territorial. During confrontations, they push each other with their beaks, which helps define the rank of individual penguins within the hierarchy system, in which they live. Huddling is a common behavior in this species: this is when the penguins huddle together to conserve the warmth. They also spend their time preening, taking oil from the preening gland on their rump and applying it to their plumage in order to maintain water repellency of their feathers.
Snares penguins are carnivores (piscivores). Their diet consists of a wide variety of fish, krill and squid, found in the warm waters of the southern part of New Zealand.
Snares penguins have monogamous mating system, forming lifelong pairs and using the same nesting sites year after year. As a general rule, males arrive a week before females. They start mating in September-October, gathering in colonies of several hundred pairs. The female helps the male to dig the nest, which is a shallow hole in the ground. When the nest is ready, female lays 2 eggs, but usually only the larger, second egg hatches. The incubation period lasts 31 - 37 days, during which both mates take turns every 5 - 25 days. When the chick hatches, the male usually stays with the hatchling while the female forages to provide her offspring with food. By the age of 20 days, the chick joins a crèche of other hatchlings. At 11 weeks old, the young penguin will fledge, and will be ready to go out to sea. Snares penguins reach sexual maturity by 6 years old, but first mate no sooner than 5 - 9 years of age.
The primary concern to these animals’ population is commercial fishing: waters around the Snares islands are full of squid, attracting large fishery, which decreases numbers of prey items.
The overall population of these penguins is presently stable, being estimated to about 63,000 mature birds. On the IUCN Red List, the Snares penguin is listed as Vulnerable (VU) species.