Fiordland Crested Penguin/ Takwaki

Screen Shot at
A photo by wildlife photographer Jonathan Harrod.

Please donate and help the NZ Nature Fund protect the declining population of Fiordland Crested Penguin

Tawaki / Fiordland Crested Penguins are endemic to Aotearoa and are the only crested penguin to breed on mainland New Zealand, from Bruce bay to Stewart Island. They are one the rarest and least studied penguins in the world. In David Attenborough’s words “It’s shy and mysterious. The jungle penguin” this makes nests incredibly hard to find and monitor which is why we know so little about these birds.


Tawaki are classified as at risk: declining in the New Zealand threat classification system and there is an apparent population decline of up to 7%. DOC and the Tawaki Project aim to monitor and update the number of Tawaki nests at key breeding sites in Fiordland, allowing us to better assess their population trends in Fiordland.

Please help us raise the rest and protect this declining species. 

Declining populations

The Fiordland crested penguin or tawaki, is one of the rarest of New Zealand’s mainland penguins.

Tawaki Monitoring

Monitoring of Tawaki began in the early 1990s in Fiordland. However, surveys have used many different methods and have been completed intermittently since then. Early data showed a possible decline in populations so the Tawaki recovery strategy in 2012 outlined monitoring goals including a 5-year period where consistent methods and sites were established to “conserve Tawaki and ensure their persistence”.

However, DOCs last population monitoring of Tawaki in Fiordland was done in 2015. At that time, it was recommended that monitoring continues at least by 2020. DOC is still assuming a population decline for the species, however there is no real evidence for the trajectory of Tawaki populations. For the last decade the Tawaki Project has been studying both their marine ecology and population dynamics of in parts of Fiordland. Once funded this project will be led by the Tawaki Project in collaboration with DOC.

The Tawaki Project will provide the experience and technical skills to make this project possible. This is an exciting opportunity to restart this important work so we can understand how this Taonga species is responding to changing ocean conditions in Fiordland. Our vision is to see Tawaki populations thriving in Fiordland, and with your help we can assess their status to ensure this happens.

The Tawaki Project have proven the most effective way to monitor these penguins is with a Transponder Gate. The first gate is operating in Harrison’s Cove, Milford Sound and records data as microchipped penguins pass to and from the colony. With long-term setup of the transponder gate, we can record population parameters such as adult & chick survival and recruitment of juveniles to the colony. Once set-up this data is all captured in a non-invasive way. Stage 1 is setting up a transponder gate in Doubtful Sound as well as marking penguins at the new study colony with transponder microchips.

Stage 2 will be doing the same in Dusky Sound. This will allow us to understand how Tawaki populations are doing across Fiordland, as research has shown different colonies are exposed to different environmental conditions. There will be ongoing costs to maintain the transponder gate as well as marking new penguins to the colony. This requires skilled technicians and researches which is why DOC is partnering with the Tawaki Project to undertake this work. These costs are reflected in the cost breakdown on the next page.

Fiordland’s marine environment

This work goes beyond just monitoring Tawaki. Penguins are known around the world as marine sentinels as their population dynamics reflect local oceanic conditions better than any other seabird group. As they forage locally during the breeding season their population trends will reflect natural variability in the environment and changes induced by anthropogenic activity. Understanding more about population trends of New Zealand’s penguins could help to unlock knowledge to demonstrate the immediate threats of climate change on New Zealand’s coastal ecosystem

Please help us raise the rest and save this declining species. 

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Please donate and help the NZ Nature Fund save the Fiordland Crested Penguin/ Tawaki

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