Little blues out for count

ESTHER ASHBY-COVENTRY
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
Little blue penguins
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RIGHT AT HOME: Two little blue penguins nesting.

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For the first time the number of little blue penguins nesting around Timaru's coastline will be known after a count next Wednesday, weather permitting.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) estimates the penguins have been returning to breed for at least 15 years, and their numbers are slowly rising.

DOC community relations ranger George Iles, who is organising the inaugural census, said they had found nest sites under Benvenue cliffs, at the eastern extension, and along Caroline Bay's Marine Parade. Now he was hoping to get accurate numbers of individual birds.

Because penguin parents take day about, staying with their chicks or going out to sea to feed, Mr Isles said the counters would be on the beach and along the rocky coastline at dusk, watching the birds come ashore as they swapped roles. The little blues usually have up to two chicks a season which become independent at eight weeks.

As well as DOC, Arowhenua residents, Forest & Bird, Kiwi Conservation Club, Timaru District Council and concerned residents will work together to collect the data.

Mr Isles said this was the first step to establishing what problems the penguins may face. He said they were limited in where they could breed as steep terrain prevented them getting ashore.

He said it was far too early to consider penguin tours like those at the Oamaru colony but he believed members of the public were interested in protecting the birds.

"I can't say what the outcomes [of the count] will be but it's exciting. And we can give them the opportunity to flourish."

LITTLE BLUE PENGUIN

  • Little blue penguins (korora) grow to between 35cm and 40cm and weigh about 1kg as adults.
  • They live about seven years and usually mate for life.
  • Between May and June they prepare nests. Between August and November they breed.
  • When moulting sometime between November and March they cannot swim and come ashore for about two weeks until their new coat has grown.
  • The remainder of the time is spent mostly out at sea feeding.
Edited: Changed "tonight" to "next Wednesday" (December 19, 2012)

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