09 July 2013

Breeding bonanza on Phillip Island

AUSTRALIA – Forget the outer suburbs of Melbourne, Phillip Island is topping the stakes as the best location for raising families – at least if you’re a little penguin.

Researchers from Phillip Island Nature Parks have crunched the numbers and last summer’s breeding season for the world’s smallest penguin was the best since 1990, proving size doesn’t matter.

“An average 1.41 chicks were fledged per female, up from 1.29 in the previous breeding season.” said Dr Peter Dann, research manager at the parks.

And it appears the little penguins were getting in early with the average laying date of the first clutch falling on 13 September, the earliest in 13 years – something that researchers expect will happen more often as the waters of Bass Strait warm up.

Since records began in 1968, the long-term yearly average is one chick fledged per female penguin. The recent breeding success follows three years of above average fledging rates but researchers are cautious about predictions for the future.

“Despite recent trends in population growth, the birds are still at the mercy of variations in the amount of food available to them.

“In the mid-90s a virus caused mass mortality in pilchards, a primary food source for little penguins. The result was the lowest little penguin breeding success on record at Phillip Island,” said Dr Dann.

Fortunately for the island’s penguins, extensive conservation work goes into protecting the colony, including a program to eradicate foxes from Phillip Island and the Victorian Government’s Summerland Housing buyback scheme completed in 2010 that returned vital habitat back to the birds.

Breeding behaviour may also play a part in the colony’s success and hints at the wild nights to be had on Phillip Island.

“We like to say little penguins are socially monogamous but sexually promiscuous. If things aren’t working out with a partner they’re not afraid to try their luck with a neighbour,” said Dr Dann.

Breeding bonanza on Phillip Island [press release], 2 July 2013, Phillip Island Nature Parks

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