Color of Life note: The blackish-grey top surface of the African Penguin camouflages it from predators above it and the mostly white underside does the same for predators below it.

Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Aves (birds)
Order: Sphenisciformes (Penguins )
Family: Spheniscidae

Genus/species: Spheniscus demersus

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Like most birds with shared parental duties, sexes are similar in appearance. Adults: upper parts blackish-grey, underparts mostly white with inverted black horseshoe extending down flank to thigh. Feet and legs black. Chicks arrive with secondary down feathers. Juveniles are grey blue and immatures gradually come to resemble adults in approx. 3 years..
Length up to To 70 cm (28 inches) tall.
Weight up to 3.5 kg (7.7 lb)


DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Found off the Coasts of South Africa and
Namibia. Nests in colonies mainly on offshore islands. Rarely encountered more than 8 km from islands or mainland.4545404530_496c8cf6b1_b

DIET IN THE WILD: Piscivorous. They feed primarily on shoaling fishes such as anchovies, mackerel and herring. They can reach a top speed of close to 20 km/h (12 mph). On the west coast a typical foraging trip could range from 30 to 70 km (18-44 miles) for a single trip. On the south coast, foraging birds cover an average of 110 km (68 miles) per trip.

Academy diet: Vitamin fortified herring, and capelin.


REPRODUCTION: S. demersus are monogamous colonial nesters. They dig nesting burrows.and lays 2 eggs which are then incubated by both parents for about 40 days. The pair feeds their young for about one month by regurgitating food into the hatchling’s mouth.The average time to independence is 80 days.

LONGEVITY: May live to at least 25 years.

PREDATORS: Seals in the water and mongooses, large-spotted genets and leopards on land. Eggs and chicks are eaten by feral cats, Kelp gulls and Sacred Ibises.

CONSERVATION: IUCN Red List: Vulnerable (VU) 2010

Threats: Depleted fish stocks, human collection of penguin guano fertilizer, oil pollution and collection of eggs in the past have resulted in a 90 percent drop in the population since 1900.

REMARKS: The alternate common name “jackass” is a reference to its donkey-like vocalization.

California Academy of Sciences penguins
Wing bands identify males females and couples. Males right, females left and couples are the same color.

African penguins are finding a strong ally in the Species Survival Plan (SSP), a program sponsored by the California Academy of Sciences and 53 other zoos and scientific institutions in the U.S. and Canada. The captive population acts as a reservoir for genetic diversity, and could eventually be used to bolster wild penguin populations.
See the Academy web site below for more information and a 24 hour web cam.


Penguins constantly work to keep their feathers clean, well-oiled, and waterproofed. They preen their feathers by nipping at an oil glad at the base of their tail to express oil which transferred to their beaks and then to their body feathers.


Ron’s flickr

California Academy of Sciences

California Academy of Sciences

BirdLife International


Animal Diversity Web

IUCN Red List

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