African Penguin

African Penguin

Jackass penguin, Black-footed penguin, Cape penguin

Spheniscus demersus
Population size
75-80 Thou
Life Span
10-15 yrs
20 km/h
2-5 kg
60-68 cm

The African penguin is a small to medium-sized penguin with black-and-white plumage, serving the animal as a perfect camouflage to protect from predators. Due to the black feathers on their back, they merge with the environment, remaining unseen for those looking down from above. Meanwhile, the white coloration on the front part of their body allows them to be unspotted by aquatic predators, looking up from below. The penguins have a horseshoe-shaped, white colored stripe on their face, stretching from around their eyes to their chest as well on the chin, towards the bill. Young penguins possess gray-blue feathers, which darken as they grow up.


The main habitat of the African penguins is rocky coastline. These birds are currently found mainly in South Africa, where they inhabit 24 islands, located between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth.

African Penguin habitat map


Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

African penguins are both diurnal and crepuscular. By day, the birds hide in their burrows, escaping the sun. At twilight and dawn, they come out to forage. African penguins are highly social animals. Grooming is a common activity in these animals. They groom each other in order to clean the plumage, rearrange the feathers and take off parasites. In addition, grooming reinforces the social bond between a pair. During their courtship rituals, the birds are extremely noisy, emitting loud calls, which are quite similar to these of donkeys. In order to clean and cool themselves, they frequently take baths, making their bathing spots at a distance of just a few meters from the seashore.

Diet and Nutrition

African penguins are carnivores (piscivores), their diet consists mainly of pilchards, round herrings, anchovies, horse mackerel and other shoaling pelagic fish. The birds will also consume squid and crustaceans.

Mating Habits

Year-round, peak occures in February
40 days
3-5 months
chick, nestling
2 eggs

These birds are monomagous, mating once in a lifetime. They can use the same breeding sites for many years. African penguins breed all year round with the peak period, occurring in February. Usually, the female digs a burrow or simply uses a hollow under a rock or bush, where she lays 2 eggs, after which both the male and the female incubate the eggs for up to 40 days. During the first month after hatching out, the chicks are fed and cared by both parents. Then they join crèches or groups of other chicks, where they find protection from predators. The chicks stay with their parents, until the age of 3-5 months, after which they leave the colony and start living independently. Male penguins are sexually mature at 5 years old while females - at 4 years old.


Population threats

Commercial fishing negatively affects the population of the species, reducing prey items and leading to food shortages. Meanwhile, the African penguins compete with Cape Fur Seals for breeding areas as well as prey items. On the other hand, the penguins are threatened by their natural predators. For example, they are prey species for seals, while their eggs and chicks are a source of food for other predators of the area. In addition, these birds currently suffer from oil pollution.

Population number

On the IUCN Red List, the African penguin is classified as an Endangered species with decreasing population. The overall population of these penguins varies between 75.000 and 80.000 birds. According to data from the year 2008, the population in Namibia is estimated at around 5.000 breeding pairs. Meanwhile, the South African population was 21.000 breeding pairs in 2009.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • These birds use three main types of vocalizations: bray, yell and haw. Meanwhile, they are sometimes called "jackass penguins" due to braying, giving out donkey-like calls.
  • These animals are able to hold their breath under the water for 2.5 minutes on average.
  • Above their eyes, the birds possess pink glands, which serve as thermoregulation. The blood flow in their glands speeds up with the increasing temperature and the glands enlarge, attaining dark pink color. Meanwhile, circulating through these glands, their blood cools down by the surrounding air.
  • These birds are excellent divers, able to dive as deep as 130 meters, though usually, they dive at about 30 meters on average.
  • These penguins make long foraging trips of up to 110 km (68 miles) at one time.
  • Once a year, returning to their colonies, these birds undergo molt, which lasts about 20 days. During this period, they lose nearly half of their body weight, remaining on land and fasting.


1. African Penguin Wikipedia article -
2. African Penguin on The IUCN Red List site -

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