The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus), also known as the jackass penguin and black-footed penguin is a species of penguin, confined to southern African waters. It is also widely known as the `jackass` penguin for its donkey-like bray, although several related species of South American penguins produce the same sound. Like all extant penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. Adults weigh on average 2.2-3.5 kg (4.9-7.7 lb) and are 60-70 cm (24-28 in) tall. It has distinctive pink patches of skin above the eyes and a black facial mask; the body upperparts are black and sharply delineated from the white underparts, which are spotted and marked with a black band. This pink gland above their eyes helps them to cope with changing temperatures. When the temperature gets hotter, the body of the African penguin sends more blood to these glands to be cooled by the air surrounding it. This then causes the gland to turn a darker shade of pink.

Habitat and Distribution

The African penguin is found on the south-western coast of Africa, living in colonies on 24 islands between Namibia and Algoa Bay, near Port Elizabeth, South Africa. It is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa and its presence gave name to the Penguin Islands. Two colonies were established by penguins in the 1980s on the mainland near Cape Town, namely Boulders Beach near Simon's Town and Stony Point in Betty's Bay. Mainland colonies probably only became possible in recent times due to the reduction of predator numbers, although the Betty's Bay colony has been attacked by leopards. The only other mainland colony is in Namibia, but it is not known when it was established. Boulders Beach is a tourist attraction, for the beach, swimming and the penguins. The penguins will allow people to approach them as close as a metre. There are also a few colonies spread throughout the world. However they are few and far between and are a very rare sight for those actively looking for them.


The African penguin is a pursuit diver and feeds primarily on fish and squid. African penguins forage in the open sea, where they pursue pelagic fish such as pilchards and anchovies (e.g. Engraulis capensis), and marine invertebrates such as squid and small crustaceans. Penguins normally swim within 20 km of the shore. A penguin may consume up to 540 grams of prey every day, but this may increase to over 1 kg when raising older chicks. Due to the collapse of a commercial pilchard fishery in 1960, the African penguin eats anchovies. Although it keeps the penguins alive, it is not ideal due to the low concentration of fat and protein. Their diet changes throughout the year and it is believed that their aspect of breeding help the penguins maintain their population size. Upon having hatchlings, although the parent penguins are protective of their hatchlings, the parents will not sacrifice their appetite for their children. If even in a situation where food is scarce, adult parents will let their children starve before they let themselves starve.


The African penguin is monogamous. It breeds in colonies, and pairs return to the same site each year. The African penguin has an extended breeding season, with nesting usually peaking from March to May in South Africa, and November and December in Namibia. A clutch of two eggs are laid either in burrows dug in guano, or scrapes in the sand under boulders or bushes. Incubation is undertaken equally by both parents for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days, whereafter the chick joins a cr?che with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to forage each day. Chicks fledge at 60 to 130 days, the timing depending on environmental factors such as quality and availability of food. The fledged chick then go to sea on their own and return to their natal colony after a lengthy time period of 12-22 months to molt into adult plumage. When penguins molt, they are unable to forage as their new feathers are not waterproof yet; therefore they fast over the entire molting period, which in African penguins takes about 20 days. African penguin females remain fertile for 10 years. African penguins spend most of their lives at sea until it comes time for them to lay their eggs. Due to the high predation by larger mammals on the mainland, the penguins will go offshore to an island for protection from mammals and natural challenges. African penguins usually breed during the African winter when temperatures are cooler. Although it is winter, the heat on the island is still scorching, therefore the penguins dig holes in the layers of guano and incubate the eggs there. Due to humans, though, the amount of guano on the land has significantly dropped. To compensate, penguins dig holes in the sand. Although effective, the sand gets hot and fills with water during rain easily. The penguins spend three weeks on land to provide for their offspring. The eggs are three to four times bigger than hen?s eggs. Parents usually feed hatchlings during dusk or dawn.