Description & Characteristics:
African penguins have a unique ecology in that, as their name implies, they are entirely removed from all other penguin populations. They mainly live and breed on islands in the temperate waters of the Benguela current off the southwest African coast. Of concern to scientists, however, is that their numbers appear to be dwindling due to oil spills and loss of habitat and the species is currently recognized as ‘vulnerable’.
African penguins are average-sized penguins. They typically sport a white stripe encircling a black cheek and throat and a black horseshoe-shaped stripe across the chest. They also have featherless pink areas around the eyes. The throat bars are similar to those of the Galapagos penguin, but Africans have a much broader white band on the cheeks and are slightly smaller. It is difficult to distinguish males from females except during breeding. Like most penguins, Africans are countershaded, with black feathers on the back and white feathers on the front of their bodies. A torpedo-shaped body and short stiff wings help African penguins seemingly ‘fly’ through the water at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
Fishing from rocky coastlines, the diet of African penguins consists mainly of fish, such as pilchards and anchovies, and crustaceans, of which krill is the principal species. They will eat up to one pound of food each day. They typically remain near the coast but are sometimes seen as far as 60 miles from land in search of food. Like most penguins, Africans have a habit of hesitating before jumping into the water to feed; waiting until one of the group has done so before taking the plunge en masse.
African penguins breed on bare ground, usually digging shallow burrows under rocks or in sand or even in guano (bird excrement) or seeking shelter under sparse vegetation. They tend to gather in breeding areas called ‘rookeries’ in September and February where they lay two green eggs. The burrow protects the eggs from predators and the hot african sun. Incubation lasts about five weeks. When the chicks hatch, usually in March, both parents will share in the care and feeding of the new arrivals.
Chicks and eggs are preyed upon by the Kelp gull, sacred Ibis, skuas and sharks. Adults and chicks are occasionally preyed upon by the South African fur seal.