Like all penguins, black-footed penguins are built for life at sea. They spend their days foraging in groups that can number 100 penguins. Their boat-shaped bodies, round in the middle and pointed at the ends, help them to glide through water. Their flipper-like wings propel them as they swim and their short legs and webbed feet act like rudders. They typically swim at a speed of 4 miles per hour—but can travel as fast as 15—and dive down to 100 feet to troll for fish. They come ashore at night to rest and feed their chicks.
Black-footed penguins generally return to the same nest site and the same partner each year. They are romantic birds, with elaborate courtship rituals. A male looking for a mate will call out in an elaborate display. An interested female will approach and circle him; then the pair will waddle off together.
The black-footed penguin eats 25 types of fish, including anchovy, herring, and mackerel, along with a variety of crustaceans and squid. It will swim up to 50 miles from shore to search for food.
Black-footed penguins are dedicated parents. A female lays two eggs in a burrow dug in the sand or under an overhanging rock or bush on the ground. For the next five weeks or so, she takes turns with her mate to incubate the eggs. Since these penguins nest on the ground, and sometimes out in the open, their eggs are vulnerable to predators. Often, only one chick survives. Once the chick hatches, the penguin pair continues to switch off feeding and guard duties. The gray, downy chick gains its juvenile plumage around six weeks of age, and is ready to leave the shore at 80 days of age. These birds can live 15 to 20 years.
Some of My Neighbors
Blue sharks, white sharks, black-back jackals, brown hyenas, Cape fur seal
Population Status & Threats
Black-footed penguins are endangered due to overfishing of their prey, oil spills, and the harvesting of their eggs and guanaco—a major source of fertilizer in some places. Habitat loss and introduced predators are also a problem. While the species numbered in the millions in 1930, today the population is estimated at 52,000 birds.