21 March 2011

Record-breaking breeding season for Middle Island penguins

AUSTRALIA - It's been another record-breaking breeding season for the little penguins on Warrnambool's Middle Island.

The latest surveys have recorded 180 adult penguins on the island, more than triple the 51 penguins recorded in 2008.

The colony's success has been credited to their canine bodyguards. The penguins have been under the protection of Maremma sheepdogs since 2006. The dogs' presence deters foxes and other dogs from the island.

"We can deduce from our data that the island is now providing a more secure breeding habitat for around 180 adult penguins - a substantial increase on the handful of birds recorded in 2005 before the Maremmas were in place," Warrnambool Coastcare Landcare Group leader Kristie King told The Standard.

"We recorded 104 birds in December during a second peak of breeding, which supports our suspicion that some pairs have laid two clutches of eggs this season, known as double-brooding.

"This phenomenon, which is uncommon in penguins, suggests that the colony is recovering well after many years of severe fox predation."

Ms King told The Standard that the survey deductions were backed up by results from the breeding monitoring program, which showed there had been an increase in numbers of chicks fledging from the island.

The monitoring team now has five years' worth of information about the colony, and will begin a detailed analysis of the data, Ms King said.

Read related post: Canine graduates ready to protect penguins

Penguins hatch a record chick count by Tina Liptai, 21 March 2011, The Warrnambool Standard

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