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Northern Rockhopper Penguin: Facts & Conservation Efforts

It has a restricted breeding range of just seven islands with a total land area of 250 square km.

What is the Northern Rockhopper Penguin?

The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is a small, white-faced, chunky penguin that is found at the Northern tip of Australia and across to southern New Zealand. It is estimated there are 200 000 breeding pairs spread throughout the Northern coastline in colonies along rocky coastlines.

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

Northern Rockhopper Penguins do not swim, they walk in the water and dive under to feed on fish, squid and krill by using their unique bills that are shaped like a spade no matter which way up they hold it.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins lay an egg which is then incubated for approximately 35 days.


The northern rockhopper penguin, the smallest and most numerous of all species of penguins, lives mainly in the South Atlantic and the Indian Ocean but also 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 of time. They do not live on the ground, only coming out of the water to breed and spend their time at sea.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins live in temperate and subtropical regions, usually on beaches or rocky shores that are often sprayed by saltwater.

Northern rockhoppers prefer islands with high rainfall as 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.

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

Northern Rockhopper Penguins are very social and communicate using vocalized noises made by the males during courtship. Mating season takes place in the summer months of November to January and Northern Rockhoppers nest on remote island beaches.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins can generally be found in deep water near islands, but when not breeding they move from one island to the next in search of food. Northern Rockhoppers are monogamous and will 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. Northern Rockhopper 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, who have been witnessed on Gough Island.

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

When Northern Rockhopper Penguins are threatened they will charge towards an intruder while making a loud, rasping sound. Northern Rockhopper Penguins 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 diurnal feeding habits.

Facts About the Northern Rockhopper Penguin

Here are some interesting facts about the northern rockhopper penguin.

  • Northern Rockhopper Penguins are the smallest species of penguin
  • Northern rockhoppers can be found on other islands
  • Northern Rockhoppers are monogamous
  • Northern Rockhopper Penguins lay eggs
  • Northern Rockhoppers are often seen swimming in large groups
  • They live in temperate and subtropical regions
  • Northern rockhoppers prefer islands with high rainfall
  • Northern Rockhopper Penguins are the most abundant penguin species
  • Northern rockhoppers communicate using vocalized noises

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Conservation of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin


Northern rockhopper penguin populations have declined seriously in the past decades, with over 1 million birds disappearing.

On some islands, this represents a loss of 90% of the population.

Commercial fishing has made inroads into the food that the penguins eat, but other threats include increased predation, egg harvesting, and pollution from ecotourism.

Introducing mice and other rodents to nesting sites can lead to nest robbing. Oil spills present another hazard

Conservation efforts

Northern rockhopper penguin populations are currently being monitored closely and an attempt to find out exactly 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.

A 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.

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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.

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