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The case of a resident Northern Rockhopper Penguin at the Falklands

NorthernRHP
A Northern Rockhopper Penguin has been residing at the Falklands in amongst a colony of Southern Rockhoppers. It was first spotted during the Falkland Islands Seabird Monitoring Programme when Falklands Conservation staff visited this particular colony on East Falkland and has also been seen on numerous occasions by local birding enthusiasts.
UPDATE: The Northern Rockhopper finds a mate! The first recorded case at the Falklands of a Nothern Rockhopper x Southern Rockhopper Penguin pair producing a hybrid chick was witnessed on 10th December 2014. The pair were observed sitting on a very small (perhaps 1-2 days old) chick.
 
 
The Northern Rockhopper has been sighted each summer since 2009 at the same colony (6 summers in total now). It was even picked up on our in-situ remote camera trap that is in place to capture the timings of the colony’s breeding stages. The lonesome penguin had not been spotted partnering with a native Rockhopper Penguin, but had seemed content to stand on the edges of the colony. In November 2014, local birder Alan Henry reported the Northern Rockhopper was on a nest with an egg. FC subsequently visited the site and have since installed an in-situ time laspe camera to monitor the pair. In December staff visited the site and observed a recently hatched chick with both parents in attendance.
 
Northern and southern pair Dec 2014The nearest Northern Rockhopper Penguin breeding populations occur at the Tristan da Cunha Island group in the South Atlantic, some 4,000 km to the north-east of the Falklands. They differ to the Southern Rockhopper being slightly larger with thicker eyebrows and longer plumes and crest feathers.
 
 
 

Photo: The Northern Rockhopper and Southern Rockhopper pair Dec 2014 (S.Crofts)

 
There are no other records of Northern (Eudyptes moseleyi) and Southern Rockhoppers (E. chrysocome) mating, but at the Falklands the Southern Rockhoppers do mate in small numbers with Macaroni Penguins (E. chrysolophus), another closely related member of the crested penguin family, and can produce hybrids (see article by Mike Morrison in Wildlife Conservation Magazine issue 15).The penguin has been recorded at the colony frequently over the breeding seasons and through the moult period. It is assumed that the bird winters with other Southern Rockhopper Penguins from the Falklands.
 
Diamond Cove SCrofts 5
Although this is the longest residing case at the Falklands of an otherwise vagrant species, Northern Rockhoppers have also been sighted at McBride Head on the north coast of East Falkland ( 1995, 1996)1, New Island (2004)1 Kidney Island (2004)1 and Pebble Island (2007).
 
The Northern Rockhopper Penguin is classified as Endangered because of the decline in numbers over the last three generations (or 30 years). The majority of the global population occurs at the Tristan da Cunha group. In 2011, the cargo ship MS Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, spilling tons of heavy crude into the ocean and oiling many Northern Rockhopper Penguins. Some of the penguins were transported to Tristan da Cunha for cleaning. Visit Tristan da Cunha Conservation .
  1. 1. Matias, R., Catry, P., Pearman, M., Morrison, M., 2009. Vagrancy of Northern Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes Moseleyi to the Falkland Islands. Marine Ornithology 37: 287–289.

 

FC would like to thank landowner Jan Cheek and farm manger Lee Molkenbuhr for permiting access to the site.

Photos:Sarah Crofts & Jackie Bennet

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