The only species of penguin to breed in Africa, the African penguin is a classy black and white bird that is a popular tourist attraction in areas where its colonies extend onto mainland beaches.
African Penguin, Jackass Penguin, Cape Penguin, Black-Footed Penguin
- Bill: Thick, black with a gray subterminal band
- Size: 24-28 inches long with 30-inch wingspan, streamlined body
- Colors: Black, white, pink
- Markings: Genders are similar with black upperparts, wings and face. Throat and underparts are white with a thin black curved band across the lower throat and scattered black spots on the chest and abdomen. Spotting pattern is variable and distinct to each individual. The back sides of the head have a white streak that begins above the eye and continues to a white stripe down the sides. Eyes are framed with bare pink skin that continues in front of the eyes. Legs and feet are black. Females are smaller and have shorter bills.
Small fish, crustaceans
Habitat and Migration:
African penguins are endemic to the southwestern part of Africa and can be found primarily on rocky islands and isolated rocky shores from Namibia to South Africa. Except during breeding and molting, most of these birds' time is spent at sea, and they do not regularly migrate but will expand or contract their range to follow food supplies.
One of this bird's common names, the jackass penguin, comes from its donkey-like braying call that is common during courtship and breeding season. These can be very vocal birds in their large colonies, and groups of thousands of penguins can be deafening.
These are relatively nervous birds, though along some mainland beaches where the birds are found they can become accustomed to humans and tend to be magnanimous about sharing the sand. African penguins are adept swimmers, can reach swimming speeds up to 20 miles per hour and will dive up to 200 feet below the surface while feeding. Tremendous breeding colonies contain thousands of birds, though such large colonies are becoming more rare as the birds' population decreases.
These are monogamous birds and both parents will trade incubation shifts for 36-40 days until their chicks hatch. The parents will care for the precocial chicks for an additional 60-120 days until the young birds fledge and can go to sea to feed themselves; the length of the fledging period depends on the quality and quantity of food available for the growing birds. Nests are typically in shallow burrows or positioned under rock ledges or in crevices for protection, and a single brood of 1-2 eggs is most common.
Attracting African Penguins:
Penguins are obviously not backyard birds, and African penguins are endangered and have suffered massive population drops in recent decades. They are extremely vulnerable to oil spills and other pollution, overfishing of their food sources, climate change that affects their preferred fish and invasive predators in their nesting areas. African penguins are popular residents of aquariums and marine bird exhibits around the world, and many facilities have captive breeding programs to help the birds' population.
- Magellanic Penguin (Spheniscus magellanicus)
- Galapagos Penguin (Spheniscus mediculus)
- Humboldt Penguin (Spheniscus humboldti)