Wellington Zoo is throwing its weight behind the little blue penguin in a bid to get it voted in as Bird of the Year.

They're only about 25cm tall and weigh about 1kg, but the native New Zealand seabird can eat 40 per cent of its body weight per day, a fact that the zoo's senior keeper of birds Philip Wisker likes to tell visitors during his penguin talks.

As part of Conservation Week, the zoo is pushing for people to vote in the penguins, which can be found around Wellington, for Bird of the Year.

At the time of print, the bird had 541 votes.

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Wellington Zoo is encouraging people to vote the little blue penguin Bird of the Year. Photo / Wellington Zoo
Wellington Zoo is encouraging people to vote the little blue penguin Bird of the Year. Photo / Wellington Zoo

They are currently classed as vulnerable thanks to threats such as loss of food and being hit by cars, as well as falling prey to cats and dogs.

There are five little blue penguins at Wellington Zoo, all of which have been brought in from the wild.

Malteser has been a resident at the zoo for five years, after he was attacked by a dog and brought in by a member of the public. The zoo runs an animal hospital called The Nest Te Kohanga, which often takes in native birds.

"They were able to patch him back together but unfortunately they couldn't rescue his eye, so he's got an eye missing," said senior keeper of birds, Philip Wisker.

With the partial loss of that sense, Malteser couldn't be sent back into the wild, so instead lives at the zoo with his partner, Squidge, a penguin that was brought in as a baby.

"Squidge was found when she was very, very young, she was a little ball of fluff."

Someone thought she was abandoned, so brought her in, Wisker said.

The little blue penguin is classed as vulnerable, and is at risk from cars, predators - including pets - and limited fish supply. Photo / Wellington Zoo
The little blue penguin is classed as vulnerable, and is at risk from cars, predators - including pets - and limited fish supply. Photo / Wellington Zoo

Because they couldn't remember where exactly they found her, the zoo could not return her to the wild as she was too young and would have starved.

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Wisker said the two penguins were a "good couple", and Malteser was good at keeping their nest box tidy.

"He does the housework, as it were, he takes out the old bits of twig and grasses which are dirty and he will replace them with new ones."

Wellingtonians should care about the penguins because they were "locals".

"you don't think to find a species of penguin in Wellington but yeah, they're there. We're extremely passionate about supporting them in the wild."

He encouraged people to follow the "take a lead" approach, remembering to keep dogs on a lead while walking in areas where the penguins could be nesting.

In the wild, the little blue penguin swims most of the day, but nest on the land at night, where they are at risk from predators. They may nest as far as 1.5km in from the shore.

Wellington Zoo is holding a number of activities to promote Conservation Week this weekend, and $1 from every entry fee over Labour Weekend will go to the zoo's conservation fund.

How to protect little blue penguins:

• Leave penguins alone. Usually scruffy birds are simply moulting.

• Put your dog on a leash around penguin areas.

• Keep your dog away from nests, and warn others nearby of the location.

• Keep your cat indoors at night.

More information on the little blue penguin can be found at the Department of Conservation website.