Fiordland crested penguin | Tawaki

Eudyptes pachyrhynchus G.R. Gray, 1845

Order: Sphenisciformes

Family: Spheniscidae

New Zealand status: Endemic

Conservation status: Declining

Other names: Fiordland penguin, New Zealand crested penguin, pokotiwha, thick-billed penguin, Victoria penguin

Geographical variation: Nil

Fiordland crested penguin | Tawaki. Adult standing. Taumaka, Open Bay Islands, September 1988. Image © Colin Miskelly by Colin Miskelly

Fiordland crested penguin | Tawaki. Adult standing. Taumaka, Open Bay Islands, September 1988. Image © Colin Miskelly by Colin Miskelly

Fiordland crested penguins are endemic to New Zealand, breeding in small colonies on inaccessible headlands and islets along the shores of south-western South Island and Stewart Island. They can be seen and heard on landing beaches during July – December. Populations have declined considerably in range and numbers since human arrival. Immediate threats include fisheries bycatch, introduced predators, and human disturbance.


Adult Fiordland crested penguins have dark blue-grey/black upperparts (which turn brown when approaching moult), often darker on the head. A broad yellow eyebrow stripe (crest) starts at the nostril and extends well past the eye, drooping down the neck; 3-6 whitish stripes on the cheeks are displayed when agitated. The underparts are silky white. The moderately large orange bill has a thin strip of black skin at the base (cf. broader bare pink skin on Snares crested penguin). Females have smaller bills (bill depth < 24 mm) than males (bill depth >24 mm). The eyes are brownish-red, and feet and legs pinkish-white above and blackish-brown behind and on the soles. Juveniles have short, thin pale-yellow eyebrow stripes and mottled whitish chin and throat. The dorsal plumage of newly-fledged chicks is distinctly bluish, fading to black with wear, then to mid-brown before moulting.

Voice: calls include loud braying or trumpeting, high pitched contact calls, and low-pitched hissing and growling. Calls are similar to those of Snares crested penguins.

Similar species: Fiordland crested penguins are most similar to Snares crested penguin, which (as adults) have dark cheeks, a larger bill with prominent pink skin at the base, and narrower eye-brow stripes. All other crested penguins are also similar, especially when immature, but note broad eye-brow stripes, throat and cheeks greyish white, and absence of bare skin at bill base in immature Fiordland crested penguins. Recently fledged young (which are smaller than adults and bluish dorsally) may be confused with little penguins when swimming, but are twice as large and have at least some yellow above the eye.

Distribution and habitat

Fiordland crested penguins breed patchily in South Westland (including Bruce Bay and Open Bay Islands), many sites in Fiordland, Solander Island, Codfish and Stewart Island and outliers. Historic accounts and fossil records suggest they were more widespread in the past, ranging up to the southern North Island and probably common in parts of the northern South Island. At-sea distribution is unknown. A few birds regularly reach the Snares Islands and all South Island coasts north to Wellington and west to Tasmania. Vagrants reach as far as north as Northland and Hawke Bay, west to Victoria (Australia), and south to Auckland, Campbell and Macquarie Islands. Surprisingly, there are no records from the Chatham Islands.

Fiordland crested penguin nesting habitat is diverse, ranging from mature temperate rain forest or dense coastal shrub, to sea caves and under rock boulders. They prefer hollows under fallen trees, roots, boulders or rock crevices.


Historic population accounts suggest Fiordland crested penguins have declined considerably in range and numbers. The current population trend is unclear, but probably declining. In the 1990s a series of surveys was attempted over their entire range. A total of 2,260 nests was found, however, numbers should be considered a minimum and a substantial undercount of actual number of breeding pairs is likely.

Threats and conservation

At sea, Fiordland crested penguins are at risk from fisheries bycatch, particularly setnets and inshore trawl nets, with a bycatch rate of 38-176 birds per year estimated in 2011. Oil spills pose a potential extreme risk to Fiordland crested penguin if they occur near breeding colonies between June and March.

Introduced predators (especially stoats) are the main land-based threat. When breeding or moulting near road access, dogs and road kill pose a high risk. Fiordland crested penguins are sensitive to human disturbance particularly at breeding and moulting sites. Disturbance can cause penguins to flee, facilitating nest predation and may cause starvation in moulting penguins. Human presence on landing sites may result in lower fledgling weights and reduced first year survival.


Fiordland crested penguins nest in loose colonies (nests 1-3+m apart), often in remote, difficult-to-access habitat. The 2 eggs are laid about 3-6 days apart in July-August, with the first (A-) egg being smaller than the second (B-) egg. Fiordland crested penguins typically raise one chick only despite laying two eggs. However, during favourable years, two chicks have been raised successfully in up to 12% of breeding pairs. Incubation commences when the second egg is laid. Both sexes share incubation duties for 5-10 days, after which first the female then the male leave the colony for a 10-14 day foraging trip. By the time males depart after courtship followed by their first long incubation shift they have fasted for about 6 weeks. The eggs hatch in September after 31-36 days of incubation, with the larger B-egg hatching first. Chicks are guarded by the male and fed by the female for the first 3 weeks, then are left unattended and typically form small crèches. Both parents continue to feed the chick(s) until they fledge at c.75 days-old in late November or early December.

Behaviour and ecology

Following breeding, the adults leave for 60-80 days to fatten up for the annual moult. Successful breeders return to their colonies in late January or early February, at which time they weigh about 2 kg more than at the end of the breeding season. Juveniles and non-breeders moult about one month earlier. During moult (about 3 weeks) they use up almost half their body weight while growing new feathers. Around late February or early March most penguins depart to sea, not returning to the colony until late June or early July.


Little is known about the marine ecology of Fiordland crested penguins. Prey composition varied considerably between northern Fiordland and Codfish Island, and consisted of cephalopods, crustaceans, and fish.



Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 2000. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Viking, Auckland.

Holdaway, R.N.; Worthy, T.H.; Tennyson, A.J.D. 2001. A working list of breeding bird species of the New Zealand region at first human contact. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 28: 119-187.

Long, R. 2017. A survey of Fiordland crested penguins / tawaki (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) from Cascade River to Martins Bay, South Westland, New Zealand, 2014. Notornis 64: 206-210.

Long, R.; Litchwark 2021. A survey of Fiordland crested penguins (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus): northeast Stewart Island/Rakiura, New Zealand, September 2019. Notornis 68: 183-187.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds.), 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol., ratites to ducks. Melbourne, Oxford University Press.

Mattern, T. 2013. Fiordland penguins, Eudyptes pachyrhynchus. In García-Borboroglu, P.G. & P.D. Boersma (eds): Penguins: natural history and conservation. University of Washington Press, Seattle, U.S.A.

Mattern, T.; Long, R. 2017. Survey and population size estimate of Fiordland penguin (tawaki; Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) in Milford Sound / Piopiotahi, New Zealand. Notornis 64: 97-101.

McLean, I.; Abel, M.; Challies, C.; Heppelthwaite, S.; Lyall, J.; Russ, R. 1997. The Fiordland crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) survey, stage V: mainland coastline, Bruce Bay to Yates Point. Notornis 44: 37-47.

McLean, I.; Kayes, S.; Murie, J.; Davis, L.S.; Lambert, D. 2000. Genetic monogamy mirrors social monogamy in the Fiordland crested penguin. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 27: 311-316.

McLean, I.G. 1990. Chick expulsion by a Fiordland crested penguin. Notornis 37: 181-182.

Miskelly, C.M.; Bell, M. 2004. An unusual influx of Snares crested penguins (Eudyptes robustus) on the Chatham Islands, with a review of other crested penguin records from the islands. Notornis 51: 235-237.

Richard, Y.; Abraham, E.R.; Berkenbusch, K. 2017. Assessment of the risk of commercial fisheries to New Zealand seabirds, 2006–07 to 2014–15. New Zealand Aquatic Environment and Biodiversity Report 191. Ministry for Primary Industries, Wellington, New Zealand. 104 p.

Robertson, H.A; Baird, K.; Elliott, G.P.; Hitchmough, R.A.; McArthur, N.J.; Makan, T.; Miskelly, C.M.; O’Donnell, C.F.J.; Sagar, P.M.; Scofield, R.P.; Taylor, G.A.; Michel, P. 2021Conservation status of birds in Aotearoa New Zealand birds, 2021. New Zealand Threat Classification Series 36. Wellington, Department of Conservation. 43p.

Seddon, P.J.; Ellenberg, U. 2008. Effects of human disturbance on penguins: The need for site- and species-specific visitor management guidelines. Pp. 163-181 in Higham, J.; Lück, M. (eds): Marine wildlife and tourism management: insights from the natural and social sciences. CAB International, Wallingford, Oxfordshire, UK.

Taylor, G.A. 2000. Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Part A, Threatened seabirds. Treatened Species Occasional Publication No. 16. Department of Conservation, Wellington, New Zealand. pp. 58-61.

van Heezik, Y. 1989. Diet of Fiordland crested penguin during the post-guard phase of chick growth. Notornis 36: 151-156.

van Heezik, Y. 1990. Diets of yellow-eyed, Fiordland crested, and little blue penguins breeding syrnpatrically on Codfish Island, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology 17: 543-548.

Warham, J. 1974. The Fiordland crested penguin Eudyptes pachyrhynchus. Ibis 116: 1-27.

Warham, J. 1975. The crested penguins. Pp. 189-269 in Stonehouse, B. (ed.). The biology of penguins. Macmillan, London.

Williams, T.D. 1995. The penguins, Spheniscidae. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Recommended citation

Ellenberg, U. 2013 [updated 2022]. Fiordland crested penguin | tawaki. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online.

Fiordland crested penguin | Tawaki

Social structure
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
burrow, ground-level hollow, lined scrape, rock crevice, scrape
Nest description
Shallow cup usually 30 cm across, sometimes lined with leaves, feathers, twigs or pebbles; usually situated against a rock, plant or earth wall; prefers hollows under fallen trees, roots, boulders or rock crevices.
Nest height (mean)
0 m
Nest height (min)
0 m
Nest height (max)
10 m
Maximum number of successful broods
Clutch size (mean)
Clutch size (min)
Clutch size (max)
Mean egg dimensions (length)
69.5 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
53.5 mm
Egg colour
Dull white, bluish when fresh, becoming mud-stained after a few days
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
3-6 days
Incubation behaviour
Incubation length (mean)
31-36 days
Incubation length (min)
31 days
Incubation length (max)
36 days
Nestling type
Nestling period (mean)
14-21 days
Nestling period (min)
14 days
Nestling period (max)
21 days
Age at fledging (mean)
About 75 days
Age at independence (mean)
At fledging - about 75 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
Not well known, probably 5-6 years
Maximum longevity
Unknown, probably 15-20 or more years
Maximum dispersal
About 1800 km (Australia)