The Leigh Penguin Project is asking walkers around Cape Rodney to ensure their dogs are secure on a leash to help protect little blue penguins.
August and September is nesting season and blue penguins are currently either brooding over eggs or building a nest to lay them in.
Project coordinator Jenny Enderby is asking walkers on the Leigh Coastal Path and Ti Point Coastal Walkway, in particular, to keep their dogs on a leash. Because the birds eat fish, they are especially smelly and attractive to dogs.
“People think their dog couldn’t possibly kill a penguin, but it only takes a second,” Jenny says.
She says the penguins like to nest underneath houses and sometimes catch new residents or holiday home owners by surprise.
In a recent example from before the lockdown, a household on Barrier View Road, away from the shore, thought they had rats. However, members of the Leigh Penguin Project put a camera underneath their house and confirmed suspicions it was penguins.
Jenny says some view it as a privilege to host penguins, but others don’t like the noise or smell made by the nesting birds.
She advises anyone who doesn’t want penguins to wait until nesting season is over, block off potential entrances underneath their house and then seek out a nesting box.
The Leigh Penguin Project is in its second year of a three-year funded trapping programme from the Department of Conservation. The project also has 75 nesting boxes set up along the Cape Rodney coast.
Jenny says anecdotally, there seem to be higher numbers of penguins as a result of the project, but surveillance equipment is needed to get an accurate population recording.
The project has received a small number of cameras from Auckland Council and is seeking funding for more.
“We have the people willing to volunteer the time, but we need the equipment,” she says.
Little Blue Penguins are the world’s smallest penguin, standing at around 40cm – about the size of a rugby ball.
They can live for up to 20 years and often mate for life. Their global population is around 500,000 breeding pairs, but they are considered to be in decline due to human impact.
Their eggs usually hatch between September and December. A breeding couple will work together to feed new-borns with fish for eight weeks.