Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Yellow-Eyed Penguin

Hoiho, Tarakaka

Megadyptes antipodes
Population size
Life Span
22 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
cm inch 
cm inch 

The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes ), known also as hoiho or tarakaka, is a species of penguin endemic to New Zealand.

Previously thought closely related to the little penguin (Eudyptula minor ), molecular research has shown it more closely related to penguins of the genus Eudyptes. Like most other penguins, it is mainly piscivorous.

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The species breeds along the eastern and south-eastern coastlines of the South Island of New Zealand, as well as Stewart Island, Auckland Islands, and Campbell Islands. Colonies on the Otago Peninsula are a popular tourist venue, where visitors may closely observe penguins from hides, trenches, or tunnels.

On the New Zealand mainland, the species has experienced a significant decline over the past 20 years. On the Otago Peninsula, numbers have dropped by 75% since the mid-1990s and population trends indicate the possibility of local extinction in the next 20 to 40 years. While the effect of rising ocean temperatures is still being studied, an infectious outbreak in the mid 2000s played a large role in the drop. Human activities at sea (fisheries, pollution) may have an equal if not greater influence on the species' downward trend.

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The species is easily identified by the distinctive pale yellow stripe on the back of its head and around its yellow eyes. The Yellow-eyed penguin is tall and heavy with a long and slender beak. Generally, males and females look similar, though females are somewhat smaller than males. The forecrown, chin and cheeks of the animal are black, covered with yellow markings. The sides of their head and the foreneck are colored with fawn-brown. The tail along with the back is state blue. Dorsal parts of their feet are pink and the ventral parts are black-brown in color. The beak of the Yellow-eyed penguin is red brown and pale cream. The front thighs, the underside of the flippers, chest and belly are colored with white. Young penguins do not have the pale yellow stripe, found in adults. In addition, the eyes and napes of juveniles are paler than these of adults.



Biogeographical realms

The Yellow-eyed penguins inhabit southern parts of New Zealand. The area of their distribution stretches from the south-eastern coast of the South Island, with the highest concentration of the species on Otago Peninsula, through Foveaux Strait to Stewart Island, reaching sub-Antarctic islands of Auckland and Campbell Islands. These penguins construct their nests on slopes, gullies or right on the seashore, usually in small bays or on promontory areas of large bays. They nest in forest or bushes, preferring habitats with flax and lupin communities.

Yellow-Eyed Penguin habitat map

Climate zones

Yellow-Eyed Penguin habitat map

Habits and Lifestyle

These penguins are sedentary animals, tending to stay constantly in the same area. They will only make short foraging trips, usually not going too far from their territory. The Yellow-eyed penguins are not colonial, in a sense that they do not live in colonies. These penguins are diurnal birds. They spend the greater part of their time feeding at sea. These penguins usually build their nests in solitary places, covered by a bank, tree or log. They nest in loosely organized groups, preferring hidden, secluded places, so, when nesting, they communicate through vocalizations, which help them find their mates and chicks. During the mating season, the Yellow-eyed penguins use shrill vocalizations, when communicating to potential mates.

Seasonal behavior
Bird's call

Diet and Nutrition

The Yellow-eyed penguin is a carnivorous (piscivorous) animal, feeding primarily upon fish such as blue cods, red cods, opal fish, spats and silversides.

Mating Habits

45 days
14 weeks
chick, nestling
2 eggs

They are serially monogamous, mating with only one partner during each breeding season, which lasts from mid-August to mid-March. Forming a pair, they build a nest. The female lays 2 eggs, after which both the male and the female incubate the eggs together. The chicks hatch out at an interval of 24 hours. During the first 25 days of their lives, the hatchlings are cared by both parents, who feed them through regurgitation for about 15-25 days. By the end of this period, parents leave, going out to sea for foraging. Chicks of this species do not gather into crèches. Fledging occurs in the middle of February, when the hatchlings are 14 weeks old. Then, at the age of 1 year, they undergo molt, gaining their adult plumage, including the yellow stripe. Sexual maturity is reached at the age of 2 years.


Population threats

Presently, there are 3 notable threats to the population of these species. These are: degradation of their habitat, presence of introduced predators and climatic changes. Degradation of their habitat is a result of agricultural development within the area of their range, and especially, throughout coastal forests of mainland New Zealand. The penguins suffer from the introduced sheep and cattle that can trample their nests as well as negatively affect the environment by overgrazing. And finally, environmental changes hugely impact the population of these penguins that are exposed to food shortages because of changes of the sea temperature, which, in turn, leads to sharp decline in numbers of prey populations.

Population number

The overall number of the Yellow-eyed penguin population is currently decreasing with the estimated population of about 3.400 mature individuals. On the IUCN Red List, the species is classified as Endangered (EN).

Fun Facts for Kids

  • Unlike other penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin has semi-musical voice.
  • The courtship rituals of these animals include shaking movements. During the displays, the animals keep their flippers away from the body, holding the head a little bit raised.
  • Molt occurs in February-March, lasting 3-4 weeks. Unlike other seabird species, these animals molt the whole plumage at once. During the molt, penguins become extremely vulnerable, loosing up to 4 kgs (8.8 lbs) in their body weight; their feathers lose the water repellency; the birds live solitarily, staying on land and starving.
  • These animals are the least social species of penguins, preferring to nest in forest or bushes. The bird is also the rarest penguin species in the world.
  • The Yellow-eyed penguin features the New Zealand $5 note.
  • The Yellow-eyed penguins are able to dive to depths of 100 m (328 ft) and can hold their breath for up to 4 minutes. In addition, some individuals travel up to 9.3 miles (15 kms) to their feeding areas from the seashore.
  • In Maori, the species is called "Hoiho", meaning "noise shouter", while the scientific name of the bird is “Megadyptes antipodes”, which means "big diver from the southern lands".


1. Yellow-Eyed Penguin Wikipedia article -
2. Yellow-Eyed Penguin on The IUCN Red List site -
3. Xeno-canto bird call -

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