St. Kilda breakwater became a Fairy Penguin colony in the 1970s. The rock breakwater was built for the Olympic Games in 1956.
The penguins at St Kilda pier are present year-round. Most of them come from the sea after sunset. It's an awesome experience to watch them waddle in throughout the evening after their hunt for fish at sea. It is cute how they walk and jump to their burrows between the rocks and making noise. To spot as many as possible, you need to visit at the right time of day and during the right season. Top Tip: Stay one night at a nearby hotel or you'll risk missing the best St Kilda penguin experience! Why? Check our explanation in the hotel tips section below. If you'd like to know who we are, check out our About Us page.
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Time of Day | When to See the Penguins
Every day after sunset the penguins come ashore from the sea to their nests at St Kilda Pier. You can spot them waddling to their rock homes after sundown. 9-12 hours later they get back to the sea before sunrise. The pier is open 24 hours. In order to spot them, just be there any time after sunset. Check sunset (and sunrise times) here: Sunrise/Sunset Melbourne (select the month and then press 'Go'). The best time after sundown in terms of sightings is usually about 30 minutes after sunset. However, keep in mind that it gets very crowded around sunset as everyone wants to see these little guys. Your best bet is to get to St. Kilda pier some time before sunset for a good spot, as it becomes really busy with visitors. We also have two great additional tips:
- Visit Twice: If your schedule allows, visit St Kilda twice: Once in the late afternoon and again at or after sunset. Especially in the summer, it's very likely to spot some penguins already in the late afternoon. Visiting before sundown has a huge advantage, that you can view and photograph them during daylight. However, it's highly recommended to watch the big groups waddling in after sunset as well.
- Visit at Night / Before Sunrise: If you want to experience a really quiet visit, we suggest two times: Around 11 p.m. or in the very early morning two hours before sunrise. Particularly before sunrise you won't see other groups of visitors and can check out the penguins in solitude. After 11 p.m. it's usually quiet as well, except for Friday or Saturday nights. The downside when visiting in the night is the darkness. That means you'd need a very good (expensive) low light camera and a fast lens for taking photos (using flash is not allowed, it hurts and scares the penguins!)
Penguins at St Kilda can be spotted throughout the year. However, there are significantly fewer penguins in the late spring and winter months of May, June and July. As soon as the weather gets colder in May/June they are off on their winter jaunt. Most of the penguins are out at sea then for a few weeks, feeding up with fish, getting ready for breeding later. However, those with eggs and chicks are staying at St Kilda of course. Depending on various factors the colony at St Kilda starts again each year in August/September. Usually, you can spot plenty of penguins between October and March/April. Depending on the month they are building nests, laying eggs, raising chicks or moulting (see below). During moulting period, usually in January/February, you'll also spot slightly fewer penguins. If you are interested in seeing the little ones: The peak number of chicks is in November and December.
Penguin Behaviour (Monthly Overview)
- Moulting | at St Kilda (2-3 weeks between January and March / Penguin Visibility: Medium): Old feathers fall out and new ones grow. This usually happens between January and March/April. It takes about 2-3 weeks while penguins are sitting on a rock not going to the sea. If penguins get white feathers they will die soon the reason is the stressful moulting.
- Feeding Up | at Sea (a couple of weeks between May and July / Penguin Visibility: Low). Roughly from May/June until July most penguins are out at sea for weeks to feed up before they start to breed later. They eat as much fish as possible, choosing whatever is available. It's believed that anchovies and pilchards are St Kilda penguins' favourite food. In case you wonder where they sleep during this time: Penguins can nap while they're in the water.
- Egg Laying & Breeding | at St Kilda (usually between July and November / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). A few Penguins start building their nests in the rocks of St Kilda from June onwards and laying eggs in July, but most in August and September until November. If they lay their eggs too late, the chicks may not survive. When the penguins start moulting later they can't feed their chicks any longer.
- Chick Raising | at St Kilda (usually between August and January/February / Penguin Visibility: High from September/October to December). After 33-37 days of breeding the chicks are raised from around August until March, although February and March are quite rare. The parent's main duty is hunting for fish and returning to their nest each day to feed the chicks. At 7-11 weeks the chicks are ready to go to the sea. They leave the colony mostly from October to January. They are out in the sea minimum for a year often several years before heading back if they survived.