With Tasmania's proximity to Antarctica, it is no surprise the island state is a popular posting for penguins. But the only species to breed on Tasmania is the world's smallest penguin, the eudyptula minor. Known as the little or fairy penguin, an estimated 110,000 to 190,000 of them are thought to call Tasmania and its islands home.
Little penguins can be spotted at various other locations, but it is best to stick to designated tours or observation spots so as to not disturb them.
Little penguins are sedentary; in fact, they build a burrow and return to the same spot night after night after spending the day in the ocean feeding. This makes little penguins perfect for bird watching, but they are shy and timid birds mostly, so you need to be careful to not upset them.
The Best spots to see little penguins on the North West Coast are:
Penguin (of course) in north-west Tasmania (nightly tours September to March).
Burnie at the Little Penguin Observation Centre on Parsonage Point (tours September to March).
Lillico Beach near Devonport (tours September to May and December to February).
Observation decks have been built near some larger established little penguin colonies, such as on Bruny Island and Lillico Beach near Devonport. Stick to these designated areas and follow the instructions on the information panels, that way you can safely watch the penguins coming home without hurting them or yourself.
Little penguins are shy and they can be startled by bright lights and too much movement and noise from excited humans.
Keep still and quiet when waiting for the penguins to return from a day's feeding and only use dim, red lights to watch the penguins.
Little penguins return after dark from feeding in the ocean. They gather together on the water's edge before making a dash up the beach to their burrows.
If you are on the beach as they are trying to return, they may get scared away, so try not to get between the water's edge and the burrows. Also, watch where you put your feet, or stick to built paths, to make sure you do not trample a burrow or penguin.
Of the Fairy or Little Penguin nesting grounds along the north-west coast of Tasmania, the one in the city of Burnie itself is one of the most convenient places to see these cute creatures in their natural habitat. Located at the end of West Beach and the boardwalk behind the Makers' Workshop and University of Tasmania facility is Burnie's Little Penguin Observation Centre, which overlooks the nesting area.
From the Centre and surrounding boardwalk, it is possible to view little penguins each night around dusk, particularly between the months of October to March. During those months, volunteers guides are on hand and point out the penguins with their special torches, as well as provide any information not found on the informative display panels at the Little Penguin Observation Centre. The winds blowing off Bass Strait can be quite cold at nights, so be sure to wear clothing that will protect you from the wind. The boardwalk is wheelchair and children friendly.
Penguin is named after the tiny sea birds that gather in rookeries at the little beach bluff between Ulverstone and Burnie known as Penguin Point. Swimming from island colonies in the Strait (including the nearby Goat Island), many come ashore each year to lay their eggs in burrows. The beach waddling happens after dark and visitors can join tours at Penguin Point during the breeding season from September until March. If you don't spot any though there's always the Big Penguin – a 3.15-metre cement and fibreglass statue erected in front of the beach to mark the town's centenary in 1975.
Lillico Beach is a coastal reserve and penguin colony ten minutes west of Devonport. This narrow coastal strip is home to a colony of Little Penguins. From the reserve's viewing platform you can watch the birds return to their burrows each evening after a day of fishing in the open ocean. Local volunteers and Parks and Wildlife rangers are on-site during the breeding season (September to May) and summer months (mid-December to mid-February).
Stanley has a small colony of Fairy Penguins that nest between the cemetery and the eastern end of Godfrey’s Beach. There is an area is fenced off and within the fenced area is a grass area for viewing the penguins as they return from sea after last light. Someone is kind enough to put the time on the gate as to what time the penguins are expected to return each day. It is also possible to see penguins in their burrows during the day awaiting their parents or partners return from a day of fishing. The new viewing platform is suitable for wheelchair access.
The Doctors Rocks Conservation area is home to a significant number of little penguins with large groups on the immediate west and eastern sides of Doctors Rocks itself and smaller pockets of penguins along the whole conservation reserve.
The “Wildcare” group called the ‘Friends of Doctors Rocks Penguins' is based around working closely with the Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service to maintain the Conservation Area in the interests of the welfare of Little Penguins. The objectives of this group include: offering tourists and local visitors an opportunity to see Little Penguins in their natural habitat during their breeding season (September to April), provide non intrusive viewing opportunities and interpretation talks according to established practices; observe and report on the behaviour of Little Penguins; report on any changes to the physical environment of the area due to natural weather events; engage in cleanup and general maintenance of the area; regularly maintain the penguin fence and install artificial penguin nests (sometimes called concrete ‘igloos’) and report to relevant authorities any inappropriate behaviour observed in the Conservation Area.