12 May 2020

Neighbourhood News – Penguin Patter 19 April 2020

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What’s our penguinologist found this week?

Hiltrun Ratz shares penguin secrets from behind the scenes.

Colony Update

Pre-moult adults are still returning to Pilots beach to begin their annual moult.

These birds are parents that either fledged or abandoned their second brood or really late juveniles.

This season, about one in five chicks that fledged in the 2018 season (51 of 269) have been recorded in the colony, with 28 of these birds identified during the moult. Being juveniles, they could be moulting anywhere: under bushes, in rabbit burrows, under the platform or walkways. It’s likely that more than 28 are moulting in the colony.

Not all penguins are moulting. Some penguins are already thinking about the next breeding season. One penguin pair has obviously tried (and succeeded) to drag a whole lot of cabbage tree leaves into their burrow entrance.

Media Attention

The ODT published an article on 31 March 2020 about the heaviest chick ever at Pilots Beach https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/not-so-little-penguin. The parents of this chick returned this week (15 April) for their annual moult, a mere 24 days after their chicks fledged – they are looking quite chunky themselves. 

On Friday 10 April, the ODT reporter came to Pilots Beach to write a story about feeding starving chicks on Pilots Beach during lockdown: https://www.odt.co.nz/news/dunedin/workers-essential-native-birds%E2%80%99-welfare.

Supplementary feeding and rehab

There’s good news and bad news…

First the bad news:

One of the returned chicks has died. It fledged while still wearing some down, and I found it on the beach looking very thin with an eye infection. Despite treating it with antibiotics, the chick never really recovered and continued to vomit and refuse food. It died after 9 days, aged 80 days. I had been feeding it since it was 24 days old and weighed 300g. It is now pushing up a cabbage tree in the colony.

Now the good news:

The larger chick from A22 appeared to have left home. It had taken up the habit of going for a swim in the morning and then returning to sit in a box – either on the foreshore or in its home box deep in the colony – waiting for salmon to be delivered. It had quite the lifestyle. On Thursday it weighed 950g and maybe it was time for a change. I carried it – again – to the foreshore box and didn’t check on it until Sunday: it was gone. About time too, as it was 80 days old.

I was pleased to find that the smaller of the A14 chicks was gone on Wednesday (aged 73 days old) but found it wet and bedraggled on the foreshore later that same day. By Friday, it was still a good weight and very difficult to feed so I took it to the foreshore. When I checked on Sunday, it too was gone. 

Fingers crossed that neither decides to come back!

The B16 chick was abandoned when it was tiny and I started feeding it on 28 February when it weighed just 340g. On 11 March its pre-moult father showed up – the chick was only 41 days old. It’s now 80 days old and is finally looking like a real penguin, albeit a slightly grubby one. It still has some down and weighed 750g on Wednesday. 

Left: B16 chick with pre-moult father on 11 March 2020. Right: B16 chick with adult feather on 19 April 2020 aged 80 days – still not quite ready.

I decided to put it in the rehab cage with the others to keep it safe because on Wednesday I saw a black kitten with white paws that I had seen near the platform last week.

I thought that this kitten had moved on, as I had seen a very similar one near the golf course last week. On Wednesday I managed to get this blobby image of the same kitten. On my way home, I saw its “twin” again near the turnoff to the Otakou turn-off. There must be two!

  Left: kitten in the grass – near the platform south of the access path. Right: cropped to the black blob that is the kitten in the grass

Most of the penguins are out and about in their cage when I pull up in the morning.

Cautiously Optimistic

I am cautiously optimistic about this chick from the A40 box.

I had picked it up from the beach, 11 days after it fledged all by itself. It was very thin and both eyes were badly infected. I have treated it since 9 April with antibiotics and so far it is not only alive but both eyes appear to be getting better.

  Left: right eye 8 April. Right: right eye on 19 April. It still has very limited vision here, but it’s getting better.

Left: left eye 8 April. Right: left eye on 19 April


Surprise of the week

A small kitten was discovered in a penguin box inside the rehab cage. There are really only two options as to how he got there. He may have managed to squeeze through the cyclone fence – I think this is unlikely considering how wobbly and uncoordinated he still is. The second option is that someone put him in the cage with the penguins, thinking that someone will discover the kitten when they come to feed the penguins.

Well, I found him and he is now helping me with my computer work at home (see below).

I have named him Wotan, the Magnificent – or should that be “the Lucky”?

(and no, he is not the kitten I have talked about earlier – that one is bigger and older)…