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African Penguin (Spheniscus demersus) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library fact sheet for the African penguin, Spheniscus demersus

Diet & Feeding


  • Consume prey across a wide range of sizes
    • Length: 10-310 mm (0.4-12.2 in) (summarized by Wilson and Wilson 1990)
    • Weight: 0.1-138.0 g (2.2 x 10-4-0.3 lb); major prey species have large overlap in size (Randall and Randall 1986)
  • Diet varied
    • Primarily consume small, shoaling, pelagic fishes (Crawford et al. 2011)
      • Target at least 18 fish species
      • Primarily anchovy and pilchard (P Whittington personal communication); also consumes the round herring (Randall and Randall 1986)
      • One study found pelagic goby was large dietary component for some Namibian African Penguins (Crawford and Shelton 1981)
    • Squid
    • Rarely crustaceans
  • Seasonal dietary changes likely (Randall and Randall 1986)
  • Diet influences growth rate of chicks (Heath and Randall 1985)
    • Squid appear to be poorer quality diet than mullet or anchovy


  • 138 kg of fish/year estimated for an adult penguin (Nagy et al. 1984)

Fasting (Cooper 1978)

  • Undertaken annually with molt
    • About every 10.5 months
    • Molt lasts approximately 18 days
  • Fat stores increase prior to molt, in preparation for fasting
    • Pre-molting adults about 31% heavier than breeding adults
    • Body mass of post-molting adults decreases by around 41%

Diet Primarily Small Fish


Wave of pilchards (sardines). Hout Bay, Cape Town, South Africa.

Image credit: © Hans Heijnen from Flickr. Some rights reserved.

Page Citations

Cooper (1978)
Crawford and Shelton (1981)
Crawford et al. (2011)
Heath and Randall (1985)
Nagy et al. (1984)
Randall and Randall (1986)
Wilson and Wilson (1990)

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