Cape Penguins (Spheniscus demersus), also known as South African Penguins, African Penguins, black-footed penguins, and jackass penguins, are fascinating and beloved birds that inhabit the southern coast of Africa. Like other extant penguins, these charismatic birds are flightless, with streamlined bodies and wings fully adapted for a marine habitat. They are also well-known for their unique appearance, endearing calls, and playful behavior.

Despite the popularity of Cape Penguins worldwide, they are at risk currently. Due to the threats, they are an endangered species, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Major threats include habitat loss, overfishing, climate change, oil spills, and predation.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Cape Penguins to help you have a clear picture of their appearance, habitat, diet, reproduction, threats, and other interesting facts about these remarkable birds. By learning more about these endangered species and their struggles, we can raise awareness about the importance of conservation efforts to protect them and ensure their survival for future generations.


Cape Penguins are medium-sized penguins. They are 60 to 70 cm tall and weigh up to 5kg. Besides, they have a distinctive black and white plumage, with a black band across their chest that extends down to their belly.

This species’ cheeks and throat are white. However, their beak, feet, and webbed flippers are black. Cape Penguins also have a patch of pink skin above each eye, which becomes brighter during mating season.

Cape Penguins are found along the southwestern coast of Africa
Cape Penguins are found along the southwestern coast of Africa

One of the unique aspects of Cape Penguins’ appearance is their braying call, which sounds like a donkey’s bray. This call is used to communicate with other penguins and is particularly important during the breeding season.


Cape Penguins live in colonies along the southwestern coast of Africa, from South Africa to Namibia. They prefer to nest on rocky islands and coastal areas with sandy or pebbly beaches. These are the areas where they can burrow into the ground to create their nests with great ease.

Cape Penguins live in colonies along the southwestern coast of Africa
Cape Penguins live in colonies along the southwestern coast of Africa

Some of the most significant breeding colonies of Cape Penguins are found on Robben Island, Dyer Island, and Boulders Beach in South Africa.

While no colonies of this species have been sighted outside the southwestern coast of Africa, there is evidence of the existence of vagrants (mostly juveniles) beyond this range.


Cape Penguins forage the open sea and often eat squid and krill, depending on their availability. In exceptional instances, these carnivores can eat other small fish, such as anchovies, sardines, red-eye round herrings, shrimps, pilchards, and more.

Remember, Cape Penguins are excellent swimmers and divers. They can dive up to 130 meters deep. How? They use their wings to propel themselves underwater and their webbed feet to steer. So, these remarkable birds can dive incredibly deep to catch their prey.


Cape Penguins are monogamous and typically breed between March and May in South Africa. However, in Namibia, they breed between November and December.

 These birds form monogamous pairs once they reach sexual maturity and stay together for life. Better still, both parents take turns incubating the eggs and caring for the chicks.

Cape Penguins typically breed between March and May
Cape Penguins typically breed between March and May

Female Cape Penguins lay one or two eggs, which they incubate for about 40 days. After hatching, the chicks stay in the nest for about 60-70 days before they fledge.


The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists Cape Penguins as endangered. One of the primary threats to Cape Penguins is overfishing. It reduces the availability of their prey.

Oil spills are also a significant threat. They can contaminate the birds’ feathers and lead to hypothermia and death. Accounts of the impact of the oil spills on the bird date back to the 1930s.

Other threats include habitat destruction, predation by seals and gulls, and human disturbance.

Several conservation efforts are in place. The African Penguin and Seabird Sanctuary in South Africa and the Namibian Islands’ Marine Protected Area are excellent examples. These initiatives aim to reduce the impact of human activities on the birds and provide them with a safe habitat.

Facts about Cape Penguins

  1. Cape Penguins are the only penguin species that breed in Africa.
  2. Cape Penguins can swim at speeds of up to 20 km/h.
  3. The pink patch above Cape Penguins’ eyes is a gland that helps them regulate their body temperature.
  4. Cape Penguins use a “social thermoregulation” strategy to keep warm during cold weather. They huddle together in large groups to share body heat.
  5. Cape Penguins are also known as “Jackass Penguins” because of their braying call, which sounds like a donkey’s bray.
  6. Cape Penguins have a lifespan of up to 20 years in the wild.
  7. Male Cape Penguins bring pebbles to their mates as a courtship ritual and help build their nests.
  8. Even in a crowded colony, Cape Penguins can recognize and locate their partners’ calls.
  9. About 4 million African penguins existed at the beginning of the 19th century.
  10. The population of Cape Penguins has declined by about 95% since the 19th century.


What country in Africa has penguins?

Although penguins are commonly associated with cold regions such as Antarctica, one country in Africa is home to this species of penguin: South Africa. Specifically, the African penguin, also known as the cape penguin, is found along the southwestern coast of South Africa, from Namibia to South Africa’s Eastern Cape.

How long do cape penguins live?

Cape Penguins have a lifespan of up to 20 years in the wild. However, their lifespan can vary depending on various factors, such as their environment, food availability, and exposure to threats such as predators and human activities. In captivity, Cape Penguins can live up to 30 years or more. The survival rate of these chicks is relatively low since only about 30% reach adulthood.

Why are cape penguins endangered?

The Cape Penguin is considered an endangered species due to various factors. Coastal development, oil spills, and pollution are destroying its natural habitat. So, the loss of nesting sites and foraging areas is one of the main reasons for their decline. Other factors include overfishing, climate change, predation, and human disturbance. Tourism and human disturbance can disrupt breeding colonies, causing the birds to abandon their nests and chicks.

What do cape penguins eat?

Cape Penguin’s diet can consist of small pelagic fish such as anchovies, pilchards, krill, and sardines, but they also eat squid and small crustaceans. However, their diet varies depending on prey availability in their habitat. If necessary, they can travel long distances to find food. During the breeding season, adults may travel up to 30 miles (48 km) from their breeding colony to find enough food to feed their chicks.

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