Specific characteristics: sound (mp3)
African penguins have a broad black band over their chest, which runs like an inverse horseshoe over their front.
Their chest is covered with a pattern of black spots, unique for every bird.
They look like Humboldt penguins, but humboldts are slightly heavier, have longer flippers and a smaller white band
on their head. (see also characteristics-differences
Their tail is short. They have a broad white band over their head and a naked pink area above their bill and eyes,
along which they can cool off. Their feet are pink and black.
Size and weight:
African penguins measure around 65 cm.
Their weight varies during the year from 2,5 till 4 kg.
Naming or nomenclature:
Only recently the name African penguin is generally accepted. The older names like blackfooted or cape penguins are
African penguins don't have completely black feet, and they are not only found around the Cape.
Linnaeus mentioned in 1758 two species in his Systema Naturae: the African penguin
(called 'Diomedea demersa') and the rockhopper (called by him 'Eudyptes crestatus').
The species name demersus
is Latin and means "under water".
- Dutch: Afrikaanse or zwartvoetpinguïn
- German: Brillenpinguin
- French: manchot du Cap, manchot moyen or manchot du Cap de Bonne-Espérance
- Spanish: pingüino de El Cabo or africano o de anteojos
- South African Dutch: Brilpikkewyn or Afrikapikkewyn
- Portuguese: Pinguim-africano
They breed on the coast of South Africa, Namibia and the neighbouring islands.
They remain the whole year on their breeding ground. Especially threatened by oil spills.
The total breeding population is estimated at 58 600 pairs.
Status: vulnerable, population tendency declining, (IUCN Red List 2008
African penguins are sedentary
birds and remain all the year round near their breeding place.
Nests are digged in sand, between grass and bushes or unter rocks, protected against the sun and close to the water.
They used to nest in guano
(excrements of older generations), but while people cut down
several layers, there is little left over for them to dig in. Nowadays african penguins have to dig in sand (collapse risk) or
breed in the open air, with risk for overheating and dehydration.
And because people too prefer sun-drenched beaches and coves, the penguins often have to flee to more remote,
Still, since 1983 there is one colony at
lying in the middle of civilization, being a popular tourist attraction and in the meanwhile declared as a nature reserve.
While african penguins all the year round remain in their breeding ground, they also can breed all the year round.
There are two peaks of breeding, depending on the place: in South Africa most of the egss are laid in March-April, while
on the west coast in Namibia it is November-December.
In good years 2 eggs are laid and will hatch too.
Incubation time lasts 38 till 41 days, with alternating shifts of 1-3 days by both parents.
The chicks are guarded and fed by both parents alternately during 40 days.
After 70 till 100 days they moult to their juvenile plumage and fledge.
They mainly eat fish, sometimes complemented with some crusteceans.
They fish close to the water surface. While anchovis and sardines also are commercially fished, they sometimes
have to forage further away, with a risk for their survival.
While African penguins, besides on Robben, Dassen and nearby islands, also breed on the mainland,
a lot of predators can be dangerous. Wild roaming dogs and cats kill adult birds, and even a
leopard has been observed doing this. The chicks are robbed by gulls and by the same cats and dogs too.
The eggs are threatened by ibisses, rats and snakes.
In the water, especially sharks and fur seals will chase on them, and even an orca will take an adult bird.
And if you count the influence of people in, it is a wonder there are still african penguins surviving.
In earlier years, eggs are robbed and eaten by thousands (enemies
declining the population number rapidly.
of anchovis, pilchards and other fish force the penguins to forage
further away, making that the chicks have to wait longer for their food, with all its consequences.
Even traffic on the mainland is a threat.
And everybody remembers the largest rescue for birds ever made. When in June 2000, the Treasure sank before the coast of
Cape Town, a quarter of the whole african penguin population suffered of it.
And this wasn't the first and unfortenately will not be the last oilspill
with a disastrous influence on sea birds.
Especially the sea routes around the capes of Africa and South America are very busy for oil tankers.