African Penguins are medium sized penguins and they reach up to 70 cm/27 inches in height and weigh up to 3.5 kg.
As you can see clearly in my photo adult penguins have black backs, a white face and a black band across the breast. Young birds have a blue-grey back, no white face and no black band across the breast and occasionally little black spots on the white belly as you can see on the photo above.
This is Boulders Beach near Cape Town, where you can watch theses cute creatures waddle to and fro. It is a lot of fun to watch them as they walk very clumsily, but they are very skillful swimmers.
• Common name: jackass penguin, as the penguins’call sounds similar to a braying donkey or black-footed penguin
• Latin name: Spheniscus demersus which derives its name from spen:greek “wedge” and refers to their wedge-like shape when swimming. demersus: latin plunging
They are a threatened species, actually classified as vulnerable, as only 10% of their original population still exist. Now the worldwide population consists of only 179,000 of the aquatic birds.
These penguins are mainly feeding on sardines/pilchards, anchovies, squid, crustaceans. When they are hunting, they can reach speed up to 20km/h and often dive up to 30m deep.
African Penguins live up to 20 years. They start breeding when they are around 4 years of age. These penguins are monogamous, the penguin pair stays together usually for many years and often move back to their old nesting sites too.
The penguins nest throughout the year, the peak breeding season in South Africa is from March to May. They are nesting in burrows or under boulders or bushes.
The main predators of the little penguins are feral cats, mongoose and genets, rarely even leopards. Marine animals preying on these flightless birds are Cape fur seals, which we witnessed from the beach too, and occasionally sharks and whales further at sea.
The female lays usually two eggs. 40% of the population’s eggs are robbed and eaten by kelp gulls, ibises. The incubation period is about 40 days, when the parents both brood the eggs. When the little penguins hatch they stay for about 15 days with their parents as they cannot yet control their body temperature. At that time they are very vulnerable to land living predators.
When the little chicks are 2-4 months old, they fledge. They loose their fluff and get their blue-grey feathers. Then they leave the parents and after 12 to 22 months usually come back to their natal colony. There they will moult to get their adult feathers.
The annual moulting season in Boulders is from November until February. Then you will see the pitty state of these otherwise pretty birds. They shed their feathers and look quite naked at some parts. The moult takes around 20 days. During this time they often loose half of their weight too. Luckily they will have stored some extra reserves of food during the prior months. The moulting penguins can not go to sea until the new feathers have come out fully, as the air insulation helps the penguins to retain their temperature.
Picture credits: own images and Shutterstock and great penguin images by Niall Dunne, Neil Bradfield and Ecoprint
Main Resources for this page:
www.ewt.org.za and www.sanccob.co.za, where you will find valuable information on penguins.