Fisheries Infosite

Yellow-eyed penguin (XYP)
Maori name
Scientific name
Megadyptes antipodes

Hoiho - the noisy penguin
The yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is only found in New Zealand is one of the rarest of our penguins. They live and breed around the south-east coast of the South island, on Stewart island and in the sub-antarctic Auckland and Campbell islands. They are known to Maori as Hoiho.

Physical characteristics
Standing 65 cm tall and weighing 5 to 6 kg, the yellow-eyed is the fourth largest of the worlds penguins. The distinguishing feature of the yellow-eyed penguin is its distinctive yellow eye and bright yellow stripe that runs through the eye and around the back of the head. Both sexes are alike, although the male does have slightly larger head and feet.

Juvenile yellow-eyeds look very similar to the adults, but lack the yellow head band. They gain their adult plumage at one year of age.

Yellow-eyed penguins are forest or shrubland nesting birds, usually preferring to nest in a secluded site and backed up to a bank, tree or log. Although they nest in loose "colonies", yellow-eyed penguins do not nest within sight of each other.

Nest sites are selected in August and normally two eggs are laid in September. The incubation duties (lasting 39-51 days) are shared by both parents who may spend several days on the nest at a time. For the first six weeks after hatching, the chicks are guarded during the day by one parent while the other is at sea feeding. The foraging adult returns at least daily to feed the chicks and relieve the partner.

After the chicks are six weeks of age, both parents go to sea to supply food to their rapidly growing offspring. Chicks usually fledge in mid February and are totally independent from then on. Chick fledge weights are generally between 5 and 6 kg.

First breeding occurs at 3-4 years of age and long term partnerships are formed. Yellow-eyed penguins may live for up to 24 years

Diet and feeding
Yellow-eyed penguins feed on a variety of fish including opal fish, silverside, sprat, aruhu and red cod. Arrow squid is also important in their diet. Feeding is usually done near the bottom, at depths of up to 160m and as far as 50km off shore. Dive times are up to 3.5 minutes.

Predators and threats
The loss of coastal forest has played a part in the decline of the yellow-eyed penguin on the NZ mainland, but the biggest threat to the survival of the species is introduced mammalian predators. Wild cats, ferrets and stoats often kill chicks and take eggs. Adult penguins all too often fall victim to dogs. More>>

Variations in the productivity of the marine environment can seriously affect breeding success and adult survival in some "poor" years. Set nets are also a threat, but little information is available about the extent of the problem more>>

Population and conservation status
The population of yellow-eyed penguins is estimated to be around 2,000 breeding pairs and is centred on the sub-antarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands, however around 500 pairs breed on New Zealand's South Island and another 150 pairs on and around Stewart Island. Variable marine productivity causes considerable fluctuation in year-to-year numbers of breeding pairs, however the long-term trend is stable. The species is listed by the NZ Dept of Conservation as being "Threatened".

There are no yellow-eyed penguins in captivity however there are numerous sites between Oamaru and Campbell Island where yellow-eyeds may be seen in the wild more >>

International Union for Conservation of nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red list

New Zealand Threat Classification System list

DOC threat status: 3 Nationally vulnerable
IUCN listing: Endangered
Average maturity age: 2
Maximum age:
Adult survival average: 87
Litter: 2
Reproduction frequency
(per year):
Demographic data source: Age mat and Surv from Hamer et al. 2000
Population: 5500
Population source: Taylor 2000

1 item
Category Environmental impacts
Effects on other species
Seabird entanglements in set nets. details