Penguins are birds, feathers and all. Those feathers insulate them against frigid water. Their specialized wings help them fly efficiently in the ocean.
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The Minnesota Zoo is thrilled to announce the hatching of its first endangered African penguin chick. Learn More.
African penguins rely on warm, sunny beaches to nest. But they spend most of their lives swimming in the cold, nutrient-rich waters flowing up from Antarctica.
What They Eat
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What They Do
How They’re Doing
Come learn more about our penguins in our Penguin Encounter program.
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Penguins eat fish equaling almost 15% of their body weight each day. For a 150 pound adult human, that would be like eating 22.5 pounds a day.
African penguins can breed at anytime of the year, with the peak breeding season varying with location. In the Northwest, peak egg laying occurs in Nov/Jan; in the Southwest in May/June and in the East in Apr/June. African penguins normally lay two eggs; the incubation period is 38-40 days and the parents share equally in attending the nest. The chick will remain in the nest for 30 days. After 30 days the parents both go to sea to gather food and the chick is left at the colony. The chicks may form small crèches or remain alone until the parents return with food. Depending on the availability of food, the chick’s downy feathers will be replaced with juvenile plumage at 60 -130 days. Shortly after the juvenile plumage is attained, the adults abandon the chicks and the juvenile birds are left to learn how to forage and avoid predators on their own – this is one reason juvenile mortality is high.
While on land, unlike Antarctic species of penguins, African penguins have to contend with warm temperate conditions when they emerge from the water. They may experience a sudden temperature shift of more than 70 degrees F. or more. African penguins are capable of expelling heat by mouth breathing and evaporative cooling by exposing their feet. The birds avoid standing in the sun and spend the day time hours either foraging at sea, or in burrows on land.
The species is now listed as “Endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. There have been a number of factors contributing to the African penguins’ decline. Historically, their breeding colonies were raided for their eggs and guano. The guano was harvested for use as fertilizer. Today these threats have largely been eliminated. Currently, the two most pertinent threats to the survival of the African penguin are the risk of oil pollution and competition with commercial fisheries for the pelagic fish. Overall, the lack of adequate food resources is a problem for the African penguin. Climate change may be responsible for the shift in their prey to areas outside of the penguins’ normal feeding range.
Excessive heat and no protection from the sun also takes its toll on young penguins. A major oil spill in 2000 threatened as much as 40% of the African penguin population. Predation by cape fur seals and sharks on penguins, as well as predation of the eggs and chicks by avian predators pose a danger to the survival of the African penguin. The introduction of domestic animals, such as cats, poses a threat to chicks and eggs on the mainland nest sites. Habitat loss due to human use is also a continuing threat. Conservation groups have become very effective in rescuing “oiled penguins” and deserted penguin chicks and returning them to the wild.
The African penguin has a very distinct mating call, resembling the sound of a donkey. Hence, this penguin species is often referred to as the “Jackass penguin.”Things You Can Do
The oceans are in trouble. You can help save them by buying from the Seafood Watch list of “Best Choice” sustainable seafood, including U.S. Pacific sardines.