Common Name: African Penguin

Scientific Name: Spheniscus demersus

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Sphenisciformes

Family: Spheniscus

Genus: Spheniscus

Species: S. demersus

Males tend to be larger than females. These birds vary from 30-100 cm tall. African penguins are black on their dorsal side, face, flippers, and the top of their head. The front and side of their head and chest are white. There are black horseshoe-shaped stripes along their upper body and sides of their head. African penguins are shaped similar to a bowling pin, and have webbed feet.


They have adapted well to life in temperate climates considering their overload of insulation. The habitat and range of this incredible bird is near coastal areas and islands of the southern tip of Africa. The African Penguin is the only penguin species that breeds in Africa, and it is found nowhere else. Originally, the African penguin nested in hardened bird droppings called guano, but when this was mined for fertilizer in the nineteenth century they were forced to adapt to other conditions. Now they nest in crude shallow burrows dug out of the sand or under beach vegetation. The reason they dig burrows is to protect the eggs and chicks from the heat of the sun. Antarctic penguins do not do this. Penguins prefer to return to the same nesting site every year and will do everything they can to get back to their old nests. At Boulders, they climb over the fence that was built to prevent them from spreading inland.


Because they live so far north, and in a relatively accessible region, African penguins have been particularly defenseless to human depredation. In more recent times the decline in food supply has forced penguins to adapt their eating habits. Seals, which used to share the same small fish, now more and more prey on the penguins instead. Oil spills from tankers are also a hazard since the oil clinging to their feathers affects their insulation. As a result, there has been a serious decrease in their numbers, and African penguins are regarded as an endangered species. There were several million African penguins in the nineteenth century. There are now only about 179 000 left. Even though all the penguin breeding sites are now protected, threats to their safety remain.


African penguins feed mainly on small pelagic fish like pilchards, anchovies, horse mackerel and herrings. Competition with commercial fishing has forced them to adapt their diet. They now also eat squid and small crustaceans: 94% fish, 5% squid and 1% crustaceans. Since penguins are capable of diving considerable depths, up to 35 meters, remaining under water for 1½ minutes, they can reach fish that other birds cannot. Sometimes they travel considerable distances to feed, up to 30-70 kilometers, although they have traveled over 200 kilometers. Particularly when they are feeding demanding older chicks, penguins will spend much of their days at sea finding food. On average, a penguin will eat about 300g of fish a day, increasing to over 1 kg before molting or when feeding older chicks.


The predators that eat the African penguins are South African fur seals, Southern sea lions, octopus, sharks, sacred ibis, and gulls. The penguins that get eaten usually are really young or sick. The healthy penguins usually avoid being eaten because of there speed in the water. The most interesting thing that I found out about the African penguin was that they are only found in Africa and nowhere else in the world! I also found out that they have been known to travel over 200 kilometers in the ocean for food. In conclusion I feel that the African penguin is an amazing creature and that we should do more to protect them and their environment


Author: Tanner I

Published: 02/2007



“African penguin” 1 Feb. 2007 Internet “Spheniscus demersus, Jackass Penguin” 1 Feb. 2007 Internet “Spheniscus demersus” 1Feb. 2007 Book Newman, Kenneth, B. Newman's Birds of Southern Africa. New Holland; New Holland Publishers, Published 2002. Image “African penguin” Grete, David. Published 2004.