A little kororā/blue penguin which stopped a plane on the tarmac at Wellington Airport last month has been released into the wild today.

Senior veterinarian Kirsten Anderson released the penguin at Lyall Bay today after over a month of recovery at Wellington Zoo.

The fledging was only six weeks old when it was found on the hot surface of the Wellington Airport runway on January 12.

“The pilot and passengers patiently waited while Wellington Airport staff raced out to collect and help the visitor,” Wellington Airport said in a statement to social media.

“Our runway sensors were reading 50C at the time, so it’s no wonder [the penguin wasn’t] particularly happy.”

Vets at the zoo put the kororā on a weight gain diet and carried out general checkups to ensure its health, said a Wellington Zoo spokesperson.

“While at Te Kōhanga, the Kororā went for long swims in our saltwater pool which helped to waterproof their feathers and prepare them for release into the wild.”

The waterproofing process was a critical step in the penguin’s growth, as these feathers protected them from the cold and moisture of the sea.

“It is crucial to wait for this process to be complete.”

Vets were able to test the waterproofing of the feathers by assessing the inner, softer, downy feathers for dryness after a swim.

“If the inner feathers are dry, the outer feather are waterproof. Another way to test is to wait until water on the outer feathers takes on a ‘beading’ effect, like water off a duck’s back.”

With confirmation that the penguin’s feathers were sound, the kororā was able to be released back into a nesting box on the coast.

“All signs point to them finding their way back to the sea to catch some tasty fish.”

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