The Snares crested penguin stands about 40cm and weighs around 3 kilograms.
It is very similar in appearance to the Fiordland crested penguin with
which it can be easily confused, particularly at sea.
The head, throat and upper parts are black and under parts are white.
The sulphur-yellow crest starts at the base of the base of the bill, extends
over the eye and droops down the back of the head. The bill is very robust,
particularly in the male, and the prominent area of bare skin at its base
helps distinguish the Snares from the Fiordland penguin. The Snares may
have some white cheek feathers, however this occurs only in a few individuals
and they do not form lines as in the Fiordland penguin. The eye is red,
but not not as bright as seen in the Rockhopper. Sexes alike, but male
is slightly larger and with a heavier bill. Fledglings have pale chins
and short crests.
The Snares crested penguin only breeds on the small (total of 341 ha)
Snares Islands. The islands are mostly covered in mostly covered in a
forest of the tree daisies Olearia lyalli and Brachyglottis
stewartiae. The penguins nest in dense colonies of up to 1500 pairs,
usually with part of the colony under vegetation. Snares penguins can
often be seen roosting on branches overhanging the colony, sometimes up
to 2m off the ground.
The population is currently (2000 breeding season) estimated to be 30,000
breeding pairs. Read an account of the last census here>>>
The males return to the breeding sites in August and construct a mound
and bowl from earth, sticks, stones and lined with vegetation. The female
follows shortly after and two eggs are laid in late September to early
October, the larger "B" egg being laid 4.5 days after the smaller
"A" egg. As with most crested penguins, both chicks are seldom
raised successfully, many pairs lose an egg during incubation and should
two eggs hatch, one chick usually dies before the end of the guard stage.
About 10 days after egg laying the males go to sea for around 12 days,
leaving the females to incubate the eggs. At this point the males have
been ashore and fasting for six weeks. Once they return, the females break
their 39 day fast and to go to sea for 10 days. Once the chicks hatch,
the male continues to incubate and guard the chicks while the female forages
and returns daily to feed the chicks. Once the chicks reach 3 weeks of
age both parents forage and return daily to feed the chicks. At this stage
the chick wanders, creching with other chicks if they are nearby, but
returning to the nest to be fed.
The chicks fledge at 11 weeks and the age of first breeding is thought
to be about 6 years. Juveniles often straggle to the east coast of the
South Island, usually to moult.
Snares penguins feed on euphausids (shrimp like crustaceans), cephalapods
(squid and octopus) and fish. Little is known about where Snares penguins
feed, but more reasearch is planned this year. Read about research into
Snares penguin foraging ecology here>>>
Although there is no immediate threat to the Snares penguin, the conservation
status of the species is listed as "vulnerable", primarily because
the the population is limited to one small island group. The Snares islands
are the only NZ subantarctic islands completely free of introduced land
mammals and their accidental introduction would be disastrous to the islands
wildlife. For this reason, the Snares islands are closed to the public.
Sea lions and leopard seals are predators of adults and juveniles, while
skuas take eggs and chicks. Giant petrels sometimes take fledglings more >>
No tourist landings are
permitted on the Snares island however cruise ships can get visitors close enough to see penguins at sea and on the landings more>>