March of the Penguins – A Wild Waddle You Won’t Forget

One of the wonderfully unique things about Australia are the fauna unique to this continent and hemisphere.  I had, along with a bunch of tourists, the pleasure of experiencing the penguin march while on Phillip Island.  The nature conservatory there is home to one of the largest penguin colonies around.

Every night the penguins waddle up the beach to their nests along the coast line.  It’s an amusing and worthwhile sight.  If you’re visiting Australia from abroad, be prepared for it to be a long night, as it doesn’t start until very late (9pm or later) and you’ll have a bit of a drive back to where you are staying.  You’ll want to dress warmly and bring a blanket as it can be very cool on the island at night.  I didn’t have the right clothing, so I opted for the VIP Skybox Tour, which is held in their elevated, comfortable skybox.  It was a worthwhile spend as they provided binoculars, a ranger guide, and we got to help do the nightly count of penguins waddling.

There are a variety of different tickets you can buy, all reasonably priced:
VIP Skybox tour – VIP treatment, elevated views and a close encounter with penguins on this ranger guided tour. Ages 16+. Tickets from $69.00.
Basic tickets – Viewing from beachfront stands with tiered seating and penguins at your feet along the boardwalks. Adult tickets $22.60.
Penguin Plus – $44 AUD Situated next to the main path of penguins, and limited to 190 people, Penguins Plus offers fantastic up close viewing of penguins. Includes a small gift and a free drink. Adult tickets from $44.
Ultimate Adventure – An intimate wildlife experience like no other! Limited to just 10 people accompanied by a ranger guide, this fully accredited eco tour takes visitors to a secluded beach away from the main parade grounds. Ages 16+. Tickets from $80.00.

If you plan to go, check out the nature park website and buy tickets in advance online:

Also, if you’re looking for a gift for the child (of any age) who has everything , check out the adopt a penguin program.  For just $75 you can adopt your own penguin via a donation to the Penguin Foundation.  Check it out here:

General penguin facts

Fun Penguin Facts:
What type of animal are penguins? Penguins are seabirds that don’t fly. They have a beak, feathers and lay eggs. Penguins have modified wings called flippers that they use for swimming in the ocean.
How many species of penguins are there? Around the world there are 17 species of penguins. All penguins are found in the southern hemisphere (Australia, New Zealand, Antarctica, sub-Antarctic islands, South America and Africa).  Little penguins are only found in southern Australia and New Zealand.

Why do penguins waddle? Waddling is the most efficient form of movement for penguins. Little legs and big feet make movement awkward on land but waddling helps by raising a penguin’s centre of mass, allowing the penguin to swing its body forward.
How big are little penguins? Little penguins are the smallest penguin in the world at only 33cm (13in) tall and one kilogram (2.2 lbs).

How many little penguins are there? Phillip Island is home to an estimated 32,000 little penguins. Current estimates put the total little penguin population at one million.

Penguin breeding – “Little penguins have an annual divorce rate between 18 and 50%.”  Little penguins do not mate for life. If breeding success is low, penguins may look for a new mate. Researchers from Phillip Island Nature Parks have recorded an annual divorce rate for little penguins of between 18 and 50%.

How much time do little penguins spend on land? Depending on the season, a little penguin may spend between one day and one month at sea. When little penguins are breeding they will regularly return to incubate the eggs and feed their chicks. During winter little penguins spend more time at sea chasing fish and only return to rest and renovate their burrows.

Why do little penguins only cross the beach at sunset? When returning to land little penguins will only cross the beach at sunset. Crossing the beach in darkness provides protection against potential predators.

Do little penguins migrate? Little penguins usually remain in the same colony their whole lives. They typically return to within 40 metres of the area they were born. Little penguins find their burrows by looking for familiar landmarks.

It’s not all black and white: Adult little penguins are the only penguins in the world with blue and white feathers instead of black and white feathers.
The dark back of penguins blends in with the water to camouflage against anything flying or swimming overhead, and the light stomach blends in with the sky to camouflage against anything swimming underneath.
How far can a penguin swim? Researchers use satellite and GPS trackers to record where penguins go at sea. Satellite tracking from Phillip Island Nature Parks shows that Phillip Island’s little penguins swim an average 15 to 50 kilometres (9-31 miles) a day. This includes diving up and down as they look for fish. Little penguins swim at an average speed of 2-4 km/hr.  “The deepest little penguin dive recorded was 72 meters.”

How deep can a little penguin dive? The deepest little penguin dive recorded is 72 meters. An average dive in search of fish is between 5 and 20 metres.  “The longest little penguin dive recorded was 1 minute 56 seconds.”

What do little penguins eat? Little penguins must go to sea to find food, preferring to eat fish such as pilchards, anchovies, warehou, red cod and barracouta and a small quantity of squid.