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Northern Rockhopper Penguin: Is This Animal Endangered?

Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes moseleyi) is one of the world’s most interesting and unique creatures. They are found on the coasts of Antarctica and southern South America, where they inhabit a variety of environments, from rocky shores to open seas.

What makes these penguins so special is their personality – they are playful, curious, and very social animals that often gather in large groups.

Rockhopper penguins are found on the Falkland Islands and on a few small islands off the coast of Chile and Argentina. Their main predators are leopard seals and sea lions.


Northern Rockhopper Penguin staring at the camera

These species, also known as the Moseley’s rockhopper penguin or Moseley’s penguin, are small, white-faced, chunky penguins found at the Northern tip of Australia and across the northern tip of southern New Zealand.

It is estimated there are 200 000 breeding pairs spread throughout the Northern coastline in colonies along rocky coastlines.

Anatomy and Appearance

Northern Rockhopper Penguin standing at the edge of the rock

They stand no taller than 20 inches tall and weigh between 4 and 7 pounds, making them one of the smallest species of penguin.

The northern rockhopper penguin is the largest of the three rockhopper penguin species. Adults can reach a height of up to 70 cm (28 in) and a weight of 4 kg (9 lb).

They have black upperparts, white underparts, and a distinctive yellow crest on their head. Their eyes are dark brown, and their bill is pink with a black tip.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin Habitat

Northern Rockhopper Penguin swimming in the water

The penguin is a species of penguin that is found in the cold waters near the equator.

These penguins are well-adapted to their aquatic habitat and can be found diving for food and swimming long distances. Northern Rockhopper Penguins typically live on rocky islands, where they can find shelter from predators and the elements.

The northern rockhopper penguin, the smallest and most numerous of all species of penguins, lives mainly in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean and breeds on islands located in Antarctic regions such as Gough Island.

Northern rockhoppers are often found in colonies; however, they tend to be nomadic and move from island to island.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are either in the water or on land for short periods. They do not live on the ground, only coming out of the water to breed and spend their time at sea.

These species live in temperate and subtropical regions, usually on beaches or rocky shores often sprayed with saltwater.

Northern rockhoppers prefer islands with high rainfall. These provide a great food supply consisting mainly of fish and squid in New Zealand, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Africa.

They can also be seen on the journey to an island such as Gough Island, which is off the coast of Madagascar.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin Diet and Nutrition

group of 3 Northern Rockhopper Penguin standing next to dead animal

These penguins are predators that feed primarily on fish, squid, and krill. They consume a wide variety of prey items, but most of their diet is made up of schooling fish. They forage for food by diving into the water to catch their prey.

They do not swim; they walk in the water and dive under to feed on fish, squid, and krill by using their unique bills shaped like a spade no matter how they hold them.

They can dive up to 100 meters (330 feet). These crested penguins typically breed on small, remote islands.

Their nests are made up of a scrape in the ground lined with feathers and vegetation. Northern Rockhopper Penguin pairs generally mate for life. Both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin Mating Habits

3 Northern Rockhopper Penguin standing next to each other

During the breeding season, the birds have a restricted breeding range of just seven islands and french southern territories with a total land area of 250 square km. These penguins mate for life, and both parents care for the young. These penguins lay an egg which is then incubated for approximately 35 days.

Rockhopper penguins hatch from eggs that are incubated by their parents for around 39 days. The chicks are born with a coat of down and can swim within a few hours of hatching.


Northern Rockhopper Penguin standing next to a water body

THE rockhopper Penguins spend most of their time at sea serving as top predators in the food chain. They often swim 30 kilometers a day and consume fish, squid, and krill while hunting for plankton.

These penguins are very social and communicate using vocalized noises made by the males during courtship. Mating season occurs in the summer months of November to January, and Northern Rockhoppers nest on remote island beaches.

They can generally be found in deep water near islands, but when not breeding, they move from one island like the Tristan da Cunha, the Kerguelen Islands to St Paul Islands and the next in search of food.

Northern Rockhoppers are monogamous and often return to the same beach each year.

They breed on flat sandy beaches close to the sea but will also lay eggs in burrows on rocky cliffs near the ocean. The penguins are often seen swimming in large groups but tend to be territorial when mating.

The Northern Rockhoppers are the target of human predators such as fur seals and leopards, witnessed on Gough Island.

A study conducted with 1-2% of Northern Rockhopper eggs found that humans destroyed only 10% while 2/3 were lost to other attackers, including bears and thorny oysters.

When penguins are threatened, they will charge toward an intruder while making a loud, rasping sound. These penguin species make the same noise when under stress or to attract a mate.

Northern rockhoppers are the most abundant penguin species, with a population estimate of 2 million individuals. In addition to being least threatened and largely out of reach from hunters, competition for food is scarce due to their daily feeding habits.

Role in the Ecosystem

Sea lion lying above the rock and group of Northern Rockhopper Penguin walking on the rock

Northern Rockhopper Penguins play an important role in the ecosystems of the Southern Ocean. They are considered a keystone species, meaning that they have a disproportionately large impact on their environment relative to their population size.

They help regulate the populations of other animals by preying on them, and they also play a role in dispersing marine nutrients through their feces.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin Facts

Here are some interesting facts about the northern rockhopper penguin.

  • Northern rockhoppers are the smallest species of penguin.
  • They can be found on other islands.
  • Northern Rockhoppers are monogamous.
  • These penguins lay eggs.
  • They are often seen swimming in large groups.
  • They live in temperate and subtropical regions.
  • Northern rockhoppers prefer inaccessible islands with high rainfall.
  • These species are the most abundant penguin species.
  • Northern rockhoppers communicate using vocalized noises.
  • Rockhopper penguins, like all penguins, spend the majority of their lives in the water.
  • They are excellent swimmers and can swim up to 15 miles per hour.

See Related: Types of Turtles Around the World

Conservation Status

Northern Rockhopper Penguin with yellow hair and mouth open

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is listed as an endangered species. Their populations are declining, and they are susceptible to oil spills and other forms of pollution. These penguins are also sensitive to environmental changes, so climate change is a major threat to their survival.


Northern rockhopper penguin populations have declined seriously in the past decades, with over 1 million birds disappearing. It represents a loss of 90% of the population on some islands.

Here are the main threats to the Northern Rockhopper Penguin population

  • Climate Change: Global climate change has had a devastating effect as it ruined a habitat and on the penguin’s population, and their numbers continue to dwindle. The climate is getting warmer, making it harder for the penguins to find food. They need cold water and icy conditions to survive, and as the climate warms, their habitat is shrinking.
  • Fishing Nets: The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is a threatened species due to the use of large fishing nets by commercial fishing boats. These nets indiscriminately capture and kill penguins and other marine life. It has led to a decrease in the Northern Rockhopper Penguin population, which endangered the species. Commercial fishing has made inroads into the penguins’ food, but other threats include increased predation, egg harvesting, and pollution from ecotourism.
  • Oil Spills: Northern Rockhopper Penguins live in colonies, and when an oil spill happens, it can cause them to abandon their eggs and young. Another threat is climate change, causing the sea ice they need to hunt to melt. Humans also hunt these species for their meat and oil.
  • Food Scarcity: One of the main reasons for their decline is food scarcity. These crested penguins feed mainly on krill, which is a small crustacean. With the increase in global temperatures, there has been a decline in krill populations. It has directly impacted Northern Rockhopper Penguin populations, as they cannot find enough food to survive.
  • Others: Introducing mice and other rodents to nesting sites can lead to nest robbing. Oil spills present another hazard.

See Related: Different Animals That Can’t Jump

Conservation Efforts

Northern Rockhopper Penguin with yellow hair looking up , tree branch

Northern rockhopper penguin populations are currently being monitored closely, and any attempt to determine what has caused the decline in their numbers is being sought.

Keeping commercial fishing concerns from trawling near breeding colonies can also help to stabilize populations.

Marine reserves will also give the protection this lovely little penguin needs.

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is in great danger of extinction.

If we don’t protect the Northern Rockhopper penguin, they may become extinct within a few years.

We need to make people aware of why it is important to protect this species and think of ways we can help.

At the Northern Rockhopper penguin’s current rate of decline, conservationists predict the Northern rockhopper penguin will become extinct by 2040.

Their extinction would not be unprecedented-only 50 years after the arrival of Europeans, Northern rockhopper penguin populations on Phillip Island in Australia had been reduced to a mere 80 individuals.

captive breeding program has begun with birds held at Sea Life Sydney Aquarium, while zoos around the world have also joined in the conservation effort.

There are over 50 Northern Rockhopper Penguins in captivity in Northern Rockhopper Penguin breeding programs mainly held for conservation efforts.

The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) Seabird Program is a vital conservation effort focused on preserving seabird populations and their habitats. Northern Rockhopper Penguins, one of the species targeted by the ABC Seabird Program, are currently listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

See Related: Best Wildlife Conservation Jobs


Do you know of or are you a part of an organization that works to conserve the Northern Rockhopper Penguin? Then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.

American Bird Conservancy

American Bird Conservancy is Northern Rockhopper Penguin’s primary advocate for endangered species protection.

ABC’s Northern Rockhopper Penguin Species Conservation Plan is a multi-faceted approach to ensuring the long-term survival of this unique penguin. Key components of the plan include research, public education, and habitat conservation.

Final Thoughts

Northern Rockhopper Penguin with yellow hair looking down towards sea lion

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are in great danger of extinction. If we don’t protect the Northern Rockhopper penguin, they may become extinct within a few years.

We need to make people aware of why it is important to protect this species and think of ways we can help. Northern Rockhoppers Penguin’s current rate of decline is highly alarming, and if something isn’t done soon, they may become extinct soon.


Why are Northern Rockhopper penguins endangered?

Northern Rockhopper penguins are considered to be endangered. A 2008 estimate put the Northern Rockhopper penguin population at 1.5 million birds, but that number may have decreased in the last decade.

What is special about the rockhopper penguin?

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are the only Northern Hemisphere penguins. They are also the smallest and most agile of all penguins, able to jump from rock to rock as they move about on land.

Northern Rockhoppers have a black crest of feathers that run from the back of their head to their shoulders, and their underparts are white.

They have a black band across their chest and a white stripe that runs from their beak, down their throat, and over their eyes. Northern Rockhoppers are found on remote islands in the Southern Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

What is the difference between the Northern and the Southern Rockhopper penguin?

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is found in the cold waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, while the Southern Rockhopper Penguin is found near Antarctica and South Africa and breeds in the Falkland Islands during the breeding season.

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