Binghamton Zoo Animals
Species: Spheniscus demersus
HABITAT AND RANGE: The Blackfooted
penguin inhabits 16 islands of the coast of south and southwestern
Africa. Some colonies are in excess of 5 million birds, and are very
important commercially for the guano they produce. These penguins
live in warm climates and prefer their water temperature 5 to 20
degrees Celsius (40 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit).
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: The Blackfooted
penguin has a mean weight of 2.9 kg (approximately 6 lbs.), and a
mean height of 70 cm (24 in.). A thick covering of overlapping short
feathers insulates them from the cold. They normally wear the single
black and white throat bars of the Peruvian penguin, but have a much
broader white band on the cheeks and are slightly smaller. A broad
white band, commencing at the base of the bill, runs above the eye,
and continues round the cheeks, broadening over the upper breast.
Under parts are white with a narrow black band across the chest,
extending down each side of the body to the feet. Eyes have an iris
dark brown with a distinct white orbital ring. They have a black
bill with a white band across both mandibles towards the tip. The
legs and feet are black. A pink patch of bare skin around the eyes
provides assistance in heat dispersal when the bird leaves the cold
ocean water for the much warmer shore. The molt of the Blackfooted
penguin lasts 13-35 days, during which time they lose up to 40% of
their body weight.
ADAPTATIONS: Blackfooted penguins are also
called Jackass penguins due to their donkey-like braying sound. This
sound allows individuals to identify one another in a large breeding
colony. They swim underwater using their flipper-like wings and
webbed feet to move rapidly through the water, and they leap up out
of the water as part of their aquatic exercises. On land, they stand
erect and waddle about, even climbing slopes when necessity or
curiosity makes it essential.
DIET: Penguins feed mainly on fish and
REPRODUCTION AND DEVELOPMENT:
penguins breed on islands off the southern and southwestern coasts
of Africa in large breeding colonies, occasionally breeding on
mainland coasts. One or two eggs are laid and incubation lasts about
35 days. They breed annually on bare ground, usually digging in
under rocks or shale, or seeking shelter under sparse vegetation.
They have a unique courtship display, the male dancing or shuffling
round the female, periodically touching her bill. The display
culminates with an almost human-like embrace when the two birds
stand breast to breast, enfolding each other with their flippers,
and with their bills interlocked. They nest mostly in burrows which
they excavate themselves. This protects them from the sun and heat
and also protects the eggs from predators. The average life
expectancy is 25 years.
STATUS IN WILD: Predators of the
Blackfooted penguin include Dominican gulls, Sacred Ibis, skua (a
gull-like bird), octopus, and sharks. This species is seriously
threatened by oil escaping from tankers, egg-cropping, and the
decline of the pilchard population which they depend on for food.
The Blackfooted penguins are known to have serious reduction in
numbers during the last three decades, and remain one of the least
studied of all penguins. A greater then 90% reduction has occurred
in the population in this century due to human impact. The last
census of the species counted only 150,000 birds. Approximately
seven hundred of these 150,000 birds are located in U.S. zoos.