Specific dynamic action (SDA), the increase in metabolic rate above resting levels that accompanies the processes of digestion and assimilation of food, can form a substantial part of the daily energy budget of free-ranging animals. We measured heart rate (fH) and rate of oxygen consumption (VO2) in 12 little penguins while they digested a meal of sardines in order to determine whether they show specific dynamic action. In contrast to some studies of other penguin species, little penguins showed a substantial SDA, the magnitude of which was proportional to the size of the meal. The energy utilized in SDA was equivalent to 13.4% of the available energy content of the fish. Furthermore, animals such as penguins that forage in a cold environment will probably expend further energy in heating their food to body temperature to facilitate efficient digestion. It is estimated that this additional energy expenditure was equivalent to 1.6%-2.3% of the available energy content of the fish, depending on the time of year and therefore the temperature of the water. Changes in fH during digestion were qualitatively similar to those in VO2, implying that there were no substantial circulatory adjustments during digestion and that the relationship between fH and VO2 in penguins is unaffected by digestive state.