Skip to main content
AnimalsFun FactsInformationSouth Africa

False Bay wildlife – African penguins

By February 11, 2016No Comments
African penguins or black-footed penguins, standing at about 60 cm tall, are medium in size and the only penguin species found on the African continent. They are also referred to as ‘jackass penguins’ due to their donkey-like bray sound, although several related species of penguins in South America make the same sound.

These aquatic birds are flightless and have stream lined bodies and stiffened wings, that aid in swimming and diving. They have a thick, black band that has a close resemblance to an upside down horse shoe and a pattern of unique, black spots on their chest. Their feet are black and their faces are fitted with a black mask, with distinctive pink patches of skin above both eyes. The pink glands help to cope with shifting temperatures; as the temperature rises, the African penguins body sends more blood to the glands which in turn cools the air surrounding the glands and which turns to a darker shade of pink.

Those that roam the sea after penguins as a meal, are sharks and the Cape fur seals. On land penguins have to be on the look-out for mongoose, domestic cats, caracals and big birds who steal their eggs and snatch up their chicks. If not caught by a predator African penguins can live up to 15 years in the wild.

Colony of penguins.
Penguin colony at Boulders Beach. 

The African penguin is only found on the south-western coast of Africa and on various inshore islands along Namibia and South Africa. These quirky and amusing African penguins can be found living in a part along the rocky and bushy coastline within False Bay.

Situated on the edge of Simons Town is Boulders Beach, which is home to over 2 500 endangered African penguins. They can be seen waddling up and down the beaches wearing their ‘tuxedos’, and entering the water to catch some food or take a dip.

Although African penguins are somewhat clumsy on land they are graceful and skilful swimmers in water, capable of reaching speeds up to 24 kilometres (15 miles) per hour. Unlike most aquatic birds, African penguins use their wings rather than feet to swim, which have been altered to form highly capable flippers. They make use of their webbed feet when swimming on the surface of water and their heavy bones enable them to dive.

African penguins are social birds that live in large and noisy families referred to as colonies. During the day they swim out to sea in search of food but by nightfall arrive back to their colonies and huddle together.

Penguin couple.
Two adult penguins.
These penguins are considered one of the calmest species of penguins in the world. Viewing areas are located in Boulders Bay allowing people to get close to them in their natural environment without fear of an attack.

African penguins swim out to the open sea, where they dive to depths of 30 metres to catch fish and squid and travel between 30 to 70 km during a trip. However, when penguins have their young to feed, the distance they travel from the breeding colony is limited. They also eat small fish found swimming near the surface of the water.  

African penguins form monogamous pairs for life within breeding colonies, that raise a clutch of two eggs each year together, while the female remains fertile for up to 10 years. There is no set breeding season but nesting usually peaks from March to May across breeding sites such as Boulders Bay. The two eggs are laid in burrows in guano (penguin faeces) or in sand under boulders and amongst bushes. Incubation of the eggs takes about 40 days during which the eggs are protected and incubated by both parents. Once the chicks are born, at least one parent guards them until they reach 30 days of ages, after which the chicks join a play school with other chicks while parents head out to sea in search of food.

Penguin adult with chicks.
Adult penguin with two young penguins. 
Chicks leave the nest between the ages of 60 to 130 days depending on factors such as the environment and availability of food. The young penguin then swims out to sea alone and returns to their native colony after 12 to 22 months to develop their adult feathers.

Did you know?

They are able to hold their breath on average for about 2.5 minutes during a dive.

They are a protected species but are sometimes harmed in oil spills off the coast of Africa.