Rockhopper Penguin Facts, Diet and Habitat

Rockhopper Penguin

Rockhopper penguins are a type of penguin that live in the island coastlines. These penguins are found mostly in the southern hemisphere. They are some of the smallest species of penguins and they are best known for their long yellow feathers, together with their bright red eyes. Also, these penguins are among some of the most numerous penguin species on Earth. There are some scientists that split the penguins into three species namely, the southern, northern, and eastern type and there are those that consider the penguins as one species.


What The Penguins Are Known For

Rockhopper penguins are well known for their red eyes and their yellow head plumage. These animals are capable of diving up to 330ft in search of prey at sea. Also, these penguins are known to mate for life. They can be found all around the southern hemisphere, from the coast of South America all the way to New Zealand. All the penguin species have yellow and black crest feathers, red eyes, and a ruddy, red-coloured beak. The male penguins are slightly bigger than the females. They can weigh up  to 5.5lbs and they are the smallest species of crested penguins. The rockhopper penguin has a traditional black and white colouring that most penguins with a black tuxedo that covers most of their bodies have, except for their round white bellies. They also have bold stripes or superciliary stripes in the eye region above their eyes. In addition, the northern penguins have more prominent crests compared to the southern species. The chicks are black and gray with black beaks too, which turn bright red and orange when they age. The young penguins look like their adult counterparts, except for the patches of grey hair that is beneath their chin. Some baby penguins do not even possess superciliary stripes at all.


Penguins nest along rocky shorelines, and that is where the name rockhopper came from. Most penguins slide around on their bellies, but the rockhopper penguins like to jump among the rocks where they live. They also like dense patches of grass called tussocks for breeding as well as for nesting. Like a lot of animals or other species of penguins, these animals are designed for swimming. When swimming they use their wings to propel themselves in the shallow water. These penguins also swim in deeper waters too. The penguins can dive up to 300ft below the surface and swim at 4mph underwater. When they return to  shore, the penguins launch themselves out of the water and land on their bellies. These penguins can be found in islands surrounding Antarctica and New Zealand, and the southern tip of South America. In the northern region penguins live on Gough Island and Tristan da Cunha, and also on islands in the Indian ocean. The eastern variety of rockhopper penguins live on the Auckland Islands and other areas along the island surrounding New Zealand. You can also spot them in the southern French territories, Prince Edward Island and Marion islands in South Africa. When it comes to the southern rockhopper penguin, it thrives on islands off the southmost coast of Chile and Argentina.


Rockhopper penguins are carnivores. Their diet includes mostly krill. They also eat other small crustaceans together with squid. The rockhopper penguin has the ability to stay at sea for many days at a time, and they can dive deep for krill. The penguins have a layer of fat that helps them float and become warm in the cold ocean. Interestingly, these penguins, like the rest of the species of penguins, have a high density of feathers that can overlap and lock out moisture. These animals also have the most feathers of any bird.


The red eyes of the rockhopper penguin aids the animal when hunting. These red eyes can adjust so that they can see both above and below the surface of the water and they can sleep while afloat at sea. The rockhopper penguins do not have land-dwelling predators, but they are afraid of sea predators as well and species of birds. These penguins can fall prey to orca whales, blue sharks, fur seals, as well as leopard seals. As much as the penguins strongly defend their young, the baby penguins often fall victim to animals like shorebirds, fulmars, skuas, and kelp gulls. Unfortunately, these penguins are also threatened by humans tools. Rockhoppers’ prey has also been negatively affected by an increase in global temperatures as a result of climate change. As such the penguins are in decline because they cannot find enough food to eat. Overfishing and oil spills have also contributed to the shortage of prey. Another thing that has negatively affected the rockhopper penguin is that the penguins can accidentally get caught in fishing nets. The northern variety being  the most at risk.


Rockhopper penguins’ mating season is in the early spring to late summer.  The penguins arrive onshore, with male penguins arriving earlier before the females. Like the rest of the penguin species, the rockhopper penguins mate for life. The pair will try to find each other by calling. These penguins make use of the same nesting site they used in previous years. The males only start to breed at age of 4 to 5years, and the female penguins start to breed at the age of 5-6years. After hatching rockhopper penguins sit on their eggs for four months or so. As they nest the parents take turns incubating the eggs. These animals can be aggressive and defend their eggs by pecking and squawking at anything that dares to come close. It is important to note that the northern penguins nest in smaller colonies than their southern counterparts. The size of northern penguin colonies can range from about 25,000 to 65,000 individuals. Southern penguins, on the other hand, nest in colonies of up to 130,000 penguins. The chicks are well protected until they are about a month old. An interesting fact about a penguin is that it can live for 10 years old in the wild. Some of the oldest rockhopper penguins have lived to be 30 years old.