African Penguin

Written By: James Banfill, Biology 487, Winter 2009


Spheniscus demersus

Status (IUCN v3.1)

An endangered status may be warranted if decline continues on the scale it has over the previous century. Continued population decline at the current rate may lead to extinction within 70 years.

Conservation Concerns
Human disturbances including tourism, fishing, and oil spills threaten the African penguin population. Oil spills are a major threat to African Penguins. A number of major oil spills have threatened local populations. When oil coats feathers it hampers insulation leading to death by hypothermia. Additionally, climate variation can raise temperatures and have negative impacts on African Penguins. African Penguins are sensitive to heat and overexposure can lead to heat stress. When overheated adult penguins enter the ocean to cool off they leave eggs and chicks vulnerable to predators. Increased rainfall may also have a negative impact on breeding. Rainfall can flood nesting burrows.

Following major oil spills there have been efforts by various organizations and scientists to collect, rehabilitate and release oiled birds. One of the major organization is the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB

Increased vigilance is needed to reduce oil pollution at sea.




Population Trend

African Penguin Pop Trend

Descriptive Characteristics
Adults are black on the back and white on the belly. A black band runs across the white belly running down both sides. Juveniles have gray to gray-brown plumage on their head and back half and their belly is white. Chicks have gray to gray-brown fluff.
Vocalizations: Vocalizations sound include a donkey-like bray, honk and growl. African Penguins are also called “Jackass Penguins” because of their bray.

Males are slightly larger than females.

Weight: 3 kg
Height: 60.0 cm
Beak: 6.1 cm
Flipper: 16.5 cm
Foot: 11.6 cm

Beak: 5.6 cm

Breeding Biology

Breeding information taken from Dassen Island.


Average Arrival Date: NA
Average Egg Laying Date: NA
Incubation Period:38 days
Chick Rearing Period: 80 days
Fledging Period: 60 – 130 days
Average Annual Reproductive Success: 0.6 chick/nest; Reproductive success varies with availability of prey.
Nest: Feathers, plant material, burrows in guano lined with debris
Age at First Breeding: 4 years; Variation in first breeding is from two to eight years of age.
Egg Weight (First Egg): 106.8 grams
Egg Length (First Egg): 7.0 cm
Egg Breadth (First Egg): 5.2 cm
Egg Weight (Second Egg): 104.8 grams
Egg Length (Second Egg): 6.8 cm
Egg Breadth (Second Egg): 5.2 cm
Molt: Molting varies between populations in South Africa and Namibia. In Namibia, adult penguins younger than four years old molt at the same time as juveniles in early January. Penguins from four to six years molt in early January or early May with older penguins. Penguins older than six years old molt in early May. In South Africa, there is a summer peak from November to January in which both adults and juveniles molt.

African penguins eat anchovy (Engraulis spp.), sardine (Sardinops spp.), and squid. Availability of prey varies by year. This yearly variation has an impact on success of breeding, survival of young, migration of penguins and whether or not younger penguins breed.

Adult and juvenile penguins are preyed upon by Feral cats and leopards while on land. Chicks’ main predators on land are Kelp Gulls, Sacred Ibis, Mole Snakes, and Black Rats. At sea all age classes are predated upon by sharks and seals.