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

**All animal information is meant to be an educational resource. It may not include all the latest scientific information. Though we edit our information we cannot guarantee the accuracy of all facts presented.