Three African Penguin chicks have hatched, so far this season, at the Minnesota Zoo.
When the eggs first hatch, keepers at the Minnesota Zoo weigh the chicks to ensure the parents are feeding them properly. The three chicks that hatched in December are steadily gaining weight—a testimony to the good parenting they are receiving!
The African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) is a species confined to southern African waters. It is widely known as the “jackass” penguin for its donkey-like bray.
Like all extant penguins it is flightless, with a streamlined body, and wings stiffened and flattened into flippers for a marine habitat. Adults weigh, on average, 4.9 to 7.7 lbs (2.2 to 3.5 kg) and are 24 to 28 inches (60 to 70 cm) tall. It has distinctive pink patches of skin above the eyes and a black facial mask; the body upper parts are black and sharply delineated from the white under parts, which are spotted and marked with a black band. The pink gland above the eyes helps the penguins to cope with changing temperatures. The African Penguin is a pursuit diver and feeds primarily on fish and squid.
They are monogamous and breed in colonies, returning to the same site each year. The African Penguin has an extended breeding season, with nesting usually peaking from March to May, in South Africa, and November and December in Namibia. A clutch of two eggs is laid either in burrows dug in guano, or scrapes in the sand under boulders or brush. Both parents undertake incubation equally for about 40 days. At least one parent guards the chicks until about 30 days. After that, the chick joins the crèche with other chicks, and both parents head out to sea to forage. Chicks fledge at 60 to 130 days and go to sea, on their own.
Once extremely numerous, the African Penguin is declining due to a combination of threats and is currently classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Population declines are, according to the IUCN, largely attributed to: food shortages (resulting from large catches of fish by commercial purse-seine fisheries) and environmental fluctuations.