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African Penguin

Spheniscus demersus

The African penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is one of the four Spheniscus species and endemic to southern Africa.  The birds in adult plumage are characterised by their black backs, white underparts. A broad white band (supercilium) runs from in front of the eye, around the back of the face to the neck, joining the white breast.  The adults also have a black stripe that runs up the side of the body and across the upper breast.  It is found breeding at 28 localities from Hollamsbird Isand in Namibia to Bird Island in Algoa Bay off the east coast of South Africa.    


The global population is estimated at ~ 18 500 pairs, with ~ 13 200 in South Africa and ~ 5 300 in Namibia.  They are listed as Endangered, with populations, particularly in South Africa, continuing to decline.  While the species faces a multitude of threats (including seal and kelp gull predation, oiling, poor breeding habitat and disease), the current driver of the population decline is reduced food availability.


They breed primarily on coastal islands, although caves are used at 2 localities in Namibia and there are currently 2 land based colonies in South Africa.  They are typically colonial breeding birds but solitary nests are not uncommon, and more so now as the species declines.  They typically lay 2 eggs and can fledge both chicks if feeding conditions are right.  Their primary prey is anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus) and sardine (Sardinops sagax).  They usually feed in groups, and typically are visual hunters.  In Namibia, the bearded goby (Sufflogobius bibarbatus) is a primary prey item.  


The PSG has identified this species as one of 3 of critical conservation concern, with functional extinction predicted along the west coast of South Africa is current trends continue.

For more information on African penguin natural history visit the Global Penguin Society at   


For more information on African penguin conservation status visit the IUCN Red List page at

Spheniscus demersus (African Penguin) (

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