November 1, 2009
LITTLE penguins are experiencing a baby boom at the Phillip Island and St Kilda colonies.
Breeding started early at the Phillip Island colony of 26,000 birds and researchers hope many penguins will have a second brood this season.
The St Kilda population had declined by a quarter to 750 birds last year but with more chicks this spring, researchers estimate their numbers will improve to more than 800 this year.
''It's great to have a nice early start to the breeding season as we haven't had one of those for 10 years,'' said Phillip Island Nature Park research manager Dr Peter Dann. ''There's obviously a lot of food about and that is the primary reason that penguins are doing well.''
Earthcare St Kilda penguin research co-ordinator Zoe Hogg said she believed the decline of the St Kilda population last year was caused by bay dredging reducing anchovy numbers, a primary food source.
''They didn't do very well last year but they are coming good and are obviously well fed,'' she said. ''I don't know if it is the fact there is no disturbance because they feed at the mouth of the Yarra River and in the channel.''
While the St Kilda penguins begin their breeding cycle earlier, most Phillip Island penguins are in the late stages of incubation. About 70 per cent of the eggs hatch into chicks. The chicks then become fledglings and head to sea after eight weeks.