Spheniscus demersusBlack-footed Penguin group


  • Spheniscidae


  • Wild:  Up to 20 years
  • Captivity:  20 to 25 years


  • Length: 18 to 24 inches
  • Weight: 7 to 11 pounds


  • South Africa, in latitudes between 20 and 40 degrees south of the equator


  • Coastlines, concentrating on islands and shorelines that are uninhabited and free of predators


  • Wild: Small swarm-fish such as anchovies and sardines; and squid.
  • Zoo: Smelt, Sardines, and capelin (it’s their favorite).

Reproduction Black-footed Penguin group

  • Generally, male penguins arrive at the rookery (breeding and nesting ground) first to establish their nesting sites.
    • Female penguins arrive several days later to select their mate, usually choosing the same mate from the previous season.
  • Male penguins may perform elaborate displays of arching backward, throwing back his wings, and braying like a donkey.
    • These displays are lively and noisy in an effort to attract attention from the available female penguins.
  • Two to three eggs are laid and both parents participate in incubating the eggs.
    • Parents alternate 1 to 3 day shifts until the eggs hatch at 38 to 41 days.
    • Usually the first-laid egg is larger than the others and hatches first.

Special Adaptations

  • The penguin body is perfect for life in the water.
    • Its streamlined shape causes very little resistance as the penguin moves through the sea.
    • Penguins use their wings and webbed feet to propel and steer as they swim.
  • Unlike many birds which are lightweight allowing them to fly, penguins are heavy, enabling them to swim and dive for food.
  • All penguins are light colored on their chest and dark on their backs. This is an example of "countershading", and serves as camouflage.
    • Swimming in the ocean, the penguin’s dark dorsal (back) side blends in with the dark ocean as seen from above.
    • The light ventral (under) side blends in with the lighter surface of the ocean as seen from below.
    • The coloration helps penguins blend into their environment so predators cannot easily spot them.

Black-footed penguins diving into pool

Penguin Facts

  • While penguins are so well adapted to life in the water, they don’t spend all their time in the sea.
  • Penguins come ashore to nest, lay eggs, and molt.
    • Penguins molt or shed their feathers periodically throughout the year. New feathers are regenerated and replace the old.
  • While at sea, penguins typically form small groups. However, they often gather in groups of thousands when they are on land.

Conservation Status

  • IUCN: Endangered
  • CITES: Appendix II
  • In the early 1900s, guano (excrement of sea birds) was harvested from the breeding locations.
    • Removal of the guano led to a dramatic reduction in nesting sites, which then resulted in a significant drop in population.
  • Egg collection, commercial fishing in feeding areas and oil spills have also contributed to the vulnerability of this species.
  • The South African National Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds has rescued many penguin species from oil spills and have rehabilitated them for return to the wild.
  • Also, known breeding islands have been made into nature reserves or national parks. Fences have been constructed to prevent predatory attacks on eggs and young.
  • However, the black-footed penguin is still considered threatened, with approximately 180,000 individuals left in the wild.

Note: Black-footed penguins are also called "jackass penguins" because of the similarity of the noises they make to those of donkeys.

Black-footed penguin swimming


  1. CITES Appendices.  Accessed December 2012.  www.cites.org
  2. IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.  Accessed December 2012.  www.iucnredlist.org