photo - African penguin black, white fur on head, wings, chest and body, patch of orange over eye, short beak, background is 3-4 other african penguins

Penguin, African

African penguin

Scientific name: Spheniscus demersus
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spheniscidae


Endemic to south Africa; breeding birds are found in coastal areas of Namibia & South Africa; non-breeding birds can be found dispersed further from Gabon to Mozambique.


Rocky, sandy, coastal areas.


Height: About 27 inches tall.
Weight: 6 – 8 lbs.; males are slightly larger than females.

This medium-sized penguin has a robust body with black plumage on its back and white plumage with black markings on its chest and belly. They also have a characteristic u-shaped white band that wraps around the eye from the back of the neck toward the beak, and an inverted horseshoe-shaped black band across their chest. Whitish bare skin over the eyes becomes bright pinkish-red in very hot conditions.  Male has deeper, more robust bill. They can live up to 25 years in a managed setting.


  • Like all penguin species, African penguins are monogamous, with breeding colonies mostly on rocky offshore islands.
  • African penguins are mature at 2 – 3 years of age.
  • After courtship, the female lays two eggs and both parents incubate the eggs.
  • The eggs hatch at about 40 days and fledge at 60 – 130 days.
  • The juveniles will then leave the colony and develop their adult plumage.
  • Average age for first breeding is thought to be 4 – 6 years old where they will return to their natal colony to find a mate.


Wild: African penguins feed primarily on fish and occasionally squid and crustaceans.
Zoo: fish


  • This species is usually found within 25 miles of the coast, coming to shore on islands or mainland to rest, breed, and molt.
  • The species breeds year round, but may vary seasonally depending on location.


  • The only penguin species found on the African continent.
  • Penguins are flightless birds on land but “fly” underwater! They have a torpedo shaped body and flipper wings that propel them through the water. Their feet are webbed and set far back on the body and used like a rudder to steer them through the water.
  • They reach a top speed of 12-13 mph while swimming, can dive to 200 ft. and can hold their breath for up to 5 minutes.
  • The waters off the African coast are very cold. African penguins have a counter current heat exchange system in their legs and flippers. Blood flowing from the heart to the flippers transfers its heat to the blood returning to the heart. This helps ensure that heat remains in the body.


Endangered, EN (IUCN); currently about 50,000 individuals.

African penguin populations have been reduced by approximately 90 percent since the beginning of the 20th century.

This species is classified as Endangered because it is undergoing a very rapid population decline due to several factors such as loss of prey from commercial fisheries, problematic exotic invasive species, increased predation, alteration & loss of habitat and oil spill pollution.


IUCN Redlist of Threatened Species — African penguin