Manly Little Penguins Volunteer Program


Protecting Manly's Little Penguins

Little Penguin


Smallest of the world's 17 penguins


Size 30 – 40cms tall
Weight 1.0 - 1.2 Kg
Shape and colouring
  • Streamlined body, wings modified flippers
  • Feathers dense and waterproofed.
  • Feathers blueish with white breast and underbelly, grey beak and blue/grey eyes.
  • Beaks slightly different with each sex, males shorter and broader than females
  • Temperate Waters.  Found on the southern edge of mainland Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand and Chatham Islands.
  • Lives and feeds in inshore waters around coast and breeding islands.
  • Burrows found in rocky outlets, caves or occasionally in sand dunes. Like to have burrows well above sea level and some shrubbery to hide entrances to burrows
  • Feeds between dawn and dusk, catches small shoals of fish, anchovies, small crustaceans. May be seen during day on rocks, but out at sea mainly.
  • Can travel considerable distances – 15 – 20 kms per day, some noted to have travelled upto 50kms.
  • Can dive 30 – 50 metres to feed, but can only stay down for about 60 seconds.
  • Breeding cycle – each year between late June to February. Male bird comes in first, prepares nest, calls for established mate. Generally monogamous about (80%), but are opportunisitc. Nest is made from leaves, feathers, pieces of rubbish (even plastic bags) and whatever bird can find to line nest – usually dug down about 15cm into soil/sand
  • Female generally lays two eggs – approximately 6 -8 hrs apart, both hatch at same time, after 33-40 days. Male feeds during day, relieves female in evening and brings food for mate whilst on eggs
Quick Links

The following links are to other Penguin Sites:

The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor ) is the smallest of all the world's 17 penguins. An adult weights about 1 Kg and is 30 cm tall. Other names you will hear it called are the Fairy Penguin and Blue Penguin (because of the colour of their feathers). The Penguins are streamlined with their wings acting as flippers. The upper head and back are covered by dark blue feathers and the underside by thicker/softer snowy white ones.

The Manly's Little Penguin colony is the only New South Wales mainland colony, and because of its size and location is considered as an endangered habitat. The Penguins you see at Manly are breeding birds and there are about 60 pairs in the North Harbour area. The Little Penguins spend the first 2-3 years of their life at sea and eventually return to breed between July and March. The average life of an adult Little Penguin is 8 years although in zoos they can live significantly longer. The survival rate of chicks to adulthood is about 3%.  

Penguins tend to make their in rock crevices or in burrows in sand or soft soil and are made from leaves, twigs and bark. Generally they will have several paths to their nests so that they can approach them in safety. The male is responsible for the nest making and the female must decided whether the nest is good enough for her to lay her eggs. The male can sometimes be seen collecting twigs, leaves and other items found around for the nest.

Males demonstrate courting behaviour outside the nesting area, and although both pairs build the nest, the bulk of the work is done by the male. Once a pair has bonded they essentially maintain a monogamous relationship.

The current population at Manly is reasonably stable and if the conditions are good the parents tend to have 2 lots of egg laying (clutches) in a year; initially in July/August and then in November/December.

The female lays two egg approximately 55mm*42 mm ( about the size of a large chicken egg). They are laid about 3 days apart, but they hatch together. Both parents incubate the eggs for 36 days. The chicks open their eyes at one day after hatching and the eyes are fully open at one week. Newly hatched chick (pullus) are covered by a dark down , eventually replaced by a second chocolate brown coat. The chicks stay in the nest for about 59 days.

Both parents share responsibility for looking after the chicks. A few days after the chicks hatch both parents alternate daily guarding the nest and going out to sea to feed. At two weeks, both parent start going out to fetch food for the chick that by now are ravenously hungry. When the chicks are of sufficient size the parents will start to groom them, removing down and stimulating the blue waterproof feathers to develop.  Eventually the parents will stop feeding the chicks (fledglings) at about 6 weeks (600 grams) and they will start venturing towards the water. The parents must remove all of the baby fluff feathers and spend time grooming the chicks, to ensure the waterproofed feathers come through. A few days before the chicks finally leave the nest, the parents will sing and dance with them.

After raising the chicks and they have fledged and gone out to sea, the parents then moult, which is a process whereby they lose and then replace their feathers. This takes around three weeks. During this time the birds are confined to their nests and are unable to go out to sea to feed until their new waterproofed feathers come through. They are vulnerable to attacks by predators such as dogs during this time, as if they are frightened and go out to sea, they will drown.

Penguins leave the nest about an hour before sunrise and return about an hour after sunset. Whilst penguins are usually solitary feeders they sometimes group and feed together. Their main diet is small shoaling fish, squid and cuttlefish. An adult can travel 20 km per day when foraging, and have been know to dive as deep as 60 meters.


Critical Habitat:

Manly Penguin Colony is the only mainland colony in NSW following destruction of another at Eden South of Sydney.  There were known to have been around 500 birds in Manly colony early in the 20th century.  However because of predation, loss of habitat and human interference the colony has almost been decimated.  In 1954, 300 were killed for pleasure, and in 1995 more were killed by dogs– only approx 30 breeding pairs remained.  In 1997 the area was declared an Endangered colony & Critical Habitat by NSW Minister for Environment 1997. The current population is about 60 breeding pairs.

In 1999 The New South Wales Environment Minister declared certain areas around Manly Critical Habitat for the Endangered Population of Little Penguins, and a Recovery team including the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Manly Council, and Taronga Zoo has been formed to implement the Little Penguin Endangered Population Recovery Plan.


Volunteer Penguin Warden Scheme:

In 2005 National Parks called for volunteers from local community and from wildlife carer organisation to help establish a team of people for the 2005/6 breeding season following destruction of nests and eggs on a couple of beaches plus predation of penguins by dogs.

Manly Wharf and Federation Point became focal points for crowd control over public holidays – penguins were made known in local press and crowds wanting to see the Penguins have increased.  Initially Penguin Wardens were overwhelmed by numbers of people, the lack of proper barriers or signage to prevent access to the penguins whilst in their burrows.  After a dog attack and death on one chick at the wharf,  the Penguins Wardens commenced a program of increased public awareness and the establishment of regular nightly patrols to watch over penguins at Wharf.


Aims of Volunteer Penguin Warden Scheme: 

The aim of the Penguin Warden scheme is to ensure that the penguins can breed in safety and away from human or dog interference. The wardens try and ensure:

The volunteer penguin wardens patrol critical areas nightly from the beginning of the season when the first penguins are noted to have come back in to their burrows. Temporary signage and barriers have been erected by volunteers in an effort to protect the birds whilst they are nesting and prevent unleashed dogs and public from getting too close to the birds or disturbing their nests. Permanent barriers and better signage is to be installed when funding is approved.


Penguin Breeding Seasons:


Later than usual – late July before birds came in – cold wet weather.  Penguins were late in mating and laying of eggs.  One nest at Federation Point was disturbed by fishermen, and the female abandoned eggs following consecutive nights when her partner was unable to return to nest due to human interference.

The Manly Wharf season was also delayed, and the established breeding pair had their first clutch in late September.  The female bird known to be at end of her breeding cycle – approximately 7 years old, has metal tag on one wing – known as Silverwing.  An adolescent male (probably the son of the established pair; penguins tend to return to where they were born) arrived at Wharf, began calling for a mate, and attempted to mate with female, but was unsuccessful in breeding.  Shortly afterwards the female partner disappeared, and no other partner found.  The established breeding pair became aggressive towards this male and chased him away from nests frequently.  He then moulted early and returned to sea early on in season.

A second clutch of chicks was born to the established pair in January. However, the mother penguin appeared tired and did little feeding of chicks.  By February the mother fed only briefly, and the father did not return for two nights, and at the same time the mother was not seen for one night.  The chicks were about two weeks from fledging, and appeared very hungry.  The parents also appeared to be moulting – building up fat supplies whilst confined to nest – unable to go out to sea until new waterproofed feathers in place. 

The Penguin Wardens contacted NPWS and DEC to decide on an action plan if the parents did not return to the feed chicks – advised to collect chicks and take to Taronga Zoo to be cared for until able to be released.  The chicks were successfully collected and taken to Wildlife Clinic at Zoo where they were fattened up and released two weeks following capture. The parents went out to sea following moulting – remained under wharf until early April.




Normal behaviour of Penguins has been disrupted because of a large New Zealand Fur Seal that was prowling up and down the beaches.  The seal left in mid September and the Penguins have settled down to a normal cycle.  The main established pair did not reunite at Manly Wharf  so the male took some time finding a new partner.

Federation Point:   At least two sets of penguins which had chicks. 

Manly Wharf:  Up to six adult penguins had been seen in the evening. This indicates 3 pairs with chicks that can look after themslves during daylight hours. Posibly 4th pair further under the wharf.

Overall the season was poor for chicks with the disappearance of the main breeding female, only a single chick fledged and the other pair having a single clutch. Part of this appears to be due to the appearance of a New Zealand Fur Seal which seemed to disrupt the breeding cycle. The construction at Federation Point also had some effect on the penguins.  

Dogs on leads had been much better managed with most people being compliant. Some peroblems earlier in the season, but these had settled down. 

Flash photography is an ongoing issue.  People claim they don't see the sign or don't understand English.  Unfortunately whilst we try and explain, the damage has already been done. Locals have been great in helping penguin wardens get the message across.  



INCIDENT:  Between Friday 3rd July  and Thursday 9th July 2009 9 Penguins have been killed by whayt appears to have been a domestic dog.

Fist Penguins came in June.  There appears to be normal behaviour. 

Federation Point:  Unknown status because site is blocked off because of Contruction.


Penguin Sounds:

Typical penguins sounds include:

Penguin Call

Territory Call


Penguin Images:

(Photographs are from Joseph & Eira Battaglia, David Jenkins, and Mant).


Injured Penguins:

Some Penguins need rescuing. The one on the left had fishing line wrapped around its legs, and almost drowned.  Once removed and the injury cleaned up it was ready for release the next day.  The penguin on the right was less lucky. Rescued by Jodi one of our volunteers. It was attacked by a dog, and even though it appeared to be normal,  it had severe injuiries, and during emergency surgery it almost died . It took Taronga Zoo 3 months to rehabilitate it to a state where it could be released. The Penguin was shown on Channel Seven "The Zoo" program, and named "Colin".  The following has been copied for educational purposes. Even though this is a lower resolution file, it is still quite a large file and may take some time to down load   Colin-WMV File (11Mb).  Dog attacks continue to be a problem, and this is why we ask that dogs be kept on a leash in all known penguin areas. 



Being a Penguin Warden:

The following tells you a little about becoming a Penguin warden. Being a Penguin Warden carries a lot of responsibility and we ask that volunteers be over 18 years of age.

The scheme is under the auspices of National Parks and Wildlife Service and each volunteer must attend a workshop about penguins before or during the penguin breeding season. This gives you information about penguins, characteristics, breeding cycle and other information, which you will find important when giving out information to the general public. You will also learn how to deal with difficult members of the public and what your role and responsibilities are as a volunteer.

NPWS have a volunteer form which you need to complete to be covered by insurance if you have any incident or injury whilst acting as a volunteer.

Each volunteer is expected to give one night per week during the breeding season, which is from June to February and a roster is made up to ensure coverage of the areas where patrols are most needed. At present volunteers are allocated to Collins Beach, Store Beach and Quarantine Beach (Quarantine Station is now privately owned and volunteers must complete a special information and compliance section) along with Manly Wharf and Federation Point, which are outside NPWS National Parks areas.

The busiest time is during the summer months, particularly public holidays, when there is most human activity, in the form of unleashed dogs, motorised vessels, fishing and tourism. New Years Eve at Manly Beach is a very busy time with many people crowded on the beach to view the fireworks. The firework display is also at the same time that the penguins return to their burrow and crowd control is necessary to ensure the penguins are not disturbed by over enthusiastic onlookers. The beaches of Collins and Quarantine are also areas, where unleashed dogs and motorised vessels are a problem over public holidays, especially Australia Day and weekends.

Each evening a patrol watches over the penguins for 3 – 4 hours, depending on what time the birds come in.  Cones are placed on the sand to keep people away from the Penguins area about 30 minutes before sunset.  Similarly safety line is being placed along the boardwalk to prevent people jumping onto the sand.

The Penguins generally they preen themselves, feed their chicks and then go into their burrows.  During the winter/Spring months, the birds will come in around  dusk. Generally only one parent will stay in the burrow, whilst the other keeps guard.  Parents will take turns to remain in the burrow, whilst the other goes out to sea.

Adolescent birds, who do not have either an established burrow or mate, may wander from the beach into either the road or towards the Ferry Terminal, volunteers need to ensure the birds do not come to harm and prevent their wandering too far from the beach. They may also remain visible to the public for longer, well into the night.

During daylight saving, the penguins will generally come in around a ½ hr after sunset, preen themselves under cover for about another ½ hr, move up the beach to their chicks, feed them and then retire to their burrows. The chicks may remain outside for some time and they are vulnerable to disturbances by flash photography, loud noises and disturbance by people going on to the beach.

The general public are very keen to know the time of the bird’s arrival and need to be directed to sit along the promenade wall away from the boardwalk area. During the time when the birds are able to be seen by the public, the volunteers will give out information and remain vigilant for signs of unleashed dogs, flash photography and other disturbances.

In some instances, there may be some verbal arguments with some members of the public with regard to access to the beach or boardwalk and volunteers must remain patient and polite at all times and give out information at to their role and the purpose of restricting access to the beach/boardwalk. In most cases the explanation is sufficient to diffuse the situation. If there is any likelihood of violence, then Manly police can be called.

If you decide to become a volunteer penguin warden we would ask that you give an undertaking to commit for the entire breeding season to ensure that there are enough penguin wardens to cover the nightly patrols. 

We hope that this information will allow you to make an informed decision regarding becoming a volunteer penguin warden. If you do want to become a penguin warden please e-mail your details to the Manly Environment Centre at  giving your contact details (including e-mail address) and availability or write to the Area Manager, National Parks and Wildlife sercvice, PO Box 623, MOSMAN 2088.


More Information:

Being A Penguin Warden Information

Penguin Warden Code of Conduct

NPWS Volunteer Agreement


Latest News:

The 2009-10 breeding season has started disastrously with 9 Penguins being killed by waht appears to be a dog.

Manly Council has placed permanent barriers above and on the boardwalk.  These are now being used.

Dog attacks and injury from speed boats are still a problem. To see more on dog attack look at the video on "Colin The Penguin" under "Injured Penguins ".

We now have a Little Penguin Fact Sheet (click here -> Little Penguin).  

Last Updated  12th July 2009                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Webmaster: Joseph Battaglia