Middle Island is situated near Warrnambool harbour and has long been home to a colony of Little Penguins.
The Little Penguin (Eudyptula minor), the smallest of the penguin species, stands 40cm tall and weighs about 1kg. They can swim up to 8kmh and are capable of diving to 50m.
Little Penguins live mostly in the ocean, coming ashore to moult and to breed. Penguins breed from around three years of age, digging nesting burrows and using artificial nesting boxes to raise their young from August to February.
Little Penguins are great swimmers and being birds look as though they are flying through the water. As they come closer to land they surf in and project themselves up on to land like a small torpedo, usually landing on their feet. Once on land they waddle from side to side with their heads down, jumping over rocks. They usually follow the same path to their burrow each night and at Middle Island they have created worn paths into the soft sandstone.
The Little Penguin once bred in many places along the southern Australian coastline, and were an important food source for the indigenous population. They were also eaten by early European settlers and American sealers and whalers in the early 1800s. British settlers also introduced large numbers of rats, dogs, cats and foxes many of which became wild and preyed on the little penguins along with many other native species.
Warrnambool’s first fully manned lighthouse station was built on the island in 1855 and there are mentions of the birdlife being annoying in lighthouse keeper’s records.
Middle Island is also home to short-tailed shearwater and black cormorant colonies.
Visit warrnamboolpenguins.com.au to find out more.