10 things you didn’t know about the Little Penguins at Phillip Island

Little Peguins from Phillip Island Nature Parks

Jessica Taylor Yates

Posted April 07, 2022

A Visitor Experience Ranger from Phillip Island Nature Parks fills us in on Little Penguin divorce rates, life expectancy, and high-velocity number-twos.

Meagan Tucker loves penguins. “You can’t help but smile and be happy when you see a penguin – they’re just so cute!” 

The Phillip Island Penguin Parade is one of Victoria’s hottest tourist destinations, having welcomed millions of spectactors to watch the Little Penguins waddle to the shore since the 1920s. 

As the largest Little Penguin colony on the planet (also called the Fairy Penguin colony), just 40 minutes from the RACV Inverloch Resort, the Penguin Parade happens nightly at the Phillip Island Nature Parks, where visitors can witness thousands of penguins make their way to shore to tend to their penguin burrows. The Parks recently underwent a remodel that now provides what Tucker calls “a better experience in a bigger environment.”

With 40,000 in their Little Penguin colony alone, the revamp consists of a Penguins Plus Viewing Platform created in partnership with RACV, and a larger centre focusing on conservation. This was necessary, says Tucker, “as the penguin numbers increased, they wanted to live where our building was – at one stage, the chef in the restaurant called us over the radio to take the penguins out of the kitchen – they get up to so much trouble!” she laughs. 

Tucker says the goal of the Parks is the conservation of penguins, wildlife, and their habitats. For those looking to help, the Parks are not-for-profit – so visiting the penguins helps to keep the spaces wild, invests in research, and protects nature for wildlife.  

In celebration of the flightless bird, here's 10 fun facts you may not have known about the largest Little Penguin colony on Earth. 

The secret lives of Little Penguins

The Little Penguins, found at Phillip Island, are the only penguin species with blue feathers

“All other species are black and white, but these have blue feathers,” says Tucker.

“These are the only ones with blue feathers out of the 18 types.”

Little Penguins have about 10,000 of the “the teeniest, tiniest feathers” on their one-foot bodies – each! These form a waterproof barrier like a built-in wetsuit, so they don’t feel the cold when swimming. 

And as for those cute penguin jumpers you see everywhere? These aren’t to keep them warm, says Tucker. “They’re in case of an oil spill – if a penguin gets oil on its feathers, they will no longer be waterproof,” so the jumper is to stop them licking or eating the oil on their feathers and getting sick. 

Penguins have a high divorce rate

It seems penguins stay together for a reason or a season. Contrary to popular belief, Little Penguins aren’t part of the ‘mate for life’ pack like wolves, coyotes and lovebirds. “They are what we call socially monogamous,” says Tucker.

 “They stay with their same partner and in their burrow for that particular breeding season – but they are promiscuous and will ‘cheat’ on their partners. At the end of each breeding season, we see up to a 50 per cent divorce rate.” Sounds icy. 

They have an average life expectancy of seven years 

“Usually after a few years, they start breeding – although the oldest one we had here got to 26 years!” Tucker says. A ‘baby’ penguin is known as a chick, and stays with its parents for anywhere from eight to ten weeks. 

So many people have volunteered to knit jumpers that Tucker says there are enough for every penguin in the 40,000-strong colony! Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Two penguin chicks at the Phillip Island Nature Reserve. Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.
Tucker says the penguins have distinct personalities that make the rangers laugh. Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.

The sandbar is their hangout

“They come to socialise,” Tucker laughs.

“We call it the sand bar, where they come to hang out with each other. They come to land, they make a racket – is it literally a penguin party!” No word yet if shrimp cocktails are served. 

They can spend weeks at sea

Despite hundreds or even thousands of penguins waddling in to delight spectators each evening, the flightless bird can spend weeks at sea before reappearing. “They spend 80 per cent of their life at sea,” Tucker explains, “so we look to the ocean and track them, to see their feeding hotspots and how we can create space of marine protected areas for them.” 

The Little Penguins are only around 30cm tall

“They’re the smallest species, our Little Penguins,” says Tucker. At around 1kg, they are only found in the Southern Hemisphere, and are roughly a foot tall.

They kiss, sing and hug

Little Penguins are social beings, and indulge in what can appear to be a 'huddle,' or penguin hug, for warmth. And while it may not be kissing as humans know it, penguins have been shown to 'touch beaks' - which may be used for preening. 

As for singing, while their vocal chops may not be as good as the voices in Happy Feet, penguins can be known to make distinct noise patterns for anything from mating calls to defense against unwanted intruders. 


Little Penguins are social, and see the sandbar as their hangout. Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.
The Little Penguins are only about one foot high. Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.
A colony of the social birds together. Image: Phillip Island Nature Parks.

Penguins have very high-velocity poo

“That’s my favourite fact!” Tucker chuckles. This can shoot up to four feet (1.3m), flying at speeds of around 8 km/h. Best to socially distance from a penguin, then...

They share the parental load

Unlike many birds where the female stays with the nest, with the Little Penguins, caring for their burrow is a shared responsibility, with both the male and the female penguins responsible for staying with their burrow, finding food, and teaching them the way of the world. 

They are one of the smallest and oldest species of penguin

As well as being the world’s smallest type of penguin, the Little Penguins are also one of the oldest. While they may be smal in stature, they live anywhere between 15 and 20 years of age.  


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