English: Eastern Rockhopper penguin
Latin: Eudyptes chrysocome moselii

Physical characteristics

One of the six species of crested penguin, the rockhopper is circumpolar in distribution. Adults often have white stripes on the cheeks, juveiles have a shorter crest and pale cheeks.

In the New Zealand region, the rockhopper can be found on the sub-antarctic islands Campbell, Auckland and Antipodes. Juveniles occasionally straggle to the New Zealand mainland.

One of the smallest of the crested penguins, the rockhopper stands at approx 40cm and weighs up to 4kg. Easily distinguished as adults by their prominent yellow crest and bright red eyes - all other crested penguins have darker eyes. Sexes alike, although males are larger with more robust bills. Juveniles have only a faint crest and have white mottling on the chin and throat.

Inhabitants of the sun-antarctic oceans, the rockhoppers breed in colonies on rocky coasts, often climbing very steep faces to breed under overhangs or caves. Will often breed alongside erect-crested penguins.

The males return to their breeding colonies in October, the females following two weeks later. Competition for nest sites can be fierce and fighting is common. A simple nest of stones and vegetation is made and two eggs are laid, however only the second and larger egg is incubated. The chicks fledge in March and the adults return to sea for the winter after moulting in April/May.

Little is known of the rockhoppers diet, but it is thought that they are pelagic feeders, dining on fish and krill near the surface.

The population of rockhopper penguins in the New Zealand region is decreasing, but the reasons for the decline are not understood. Most of their breeding habitats are free of introduced predators so this does not appear to be a significant factor. Skua and giant petrels take unguarded eggs and chicks more>>

A cruise to a subantarctic island or a visit to a zoo are the only ways to see rockhoppers more>>

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