The WCS New York Aquarium’s breeding program for the African black-footed penguin (Spheniscus demersus) has successfully added four more chicks to its colony.

The four penguins are now on public view at the Aquarium’s Sea Cliffs habitat, and the new birds range from a few months to a year and a half in age.  The aquarium’s colony now numbers nearly 30 birds.

Penguin chicks are hatched in off-exhibit nest boxes, and animal care staff monitor and care for the chicks until they are ready to join the colony. Black-footed penguins typically lay one to two eggs and incubate them for almost 40 days. The gray down of the newly hatched chicks gives way to waterproof juvenile plumage (blue-gray feathers on the back and head and white on the belly) after 60 days.

Sometimes called “jackass” penguins for their distinctive braying call, adult African black-footed penguins stand about 18 inches in height and can weigh seven to eight pounds. The African black-footed penguin is one of 18 species of penguins that inhabit marine environments of the Southern Hemisphere; the specific range of the African black-footed penguin includes the coastline, islands, and marine waters of southern Africa. 

The species is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The species faces numerous threats in the wild including human disturbance at nesting sites, oil exploration, and climate change.

The New York Aquarium breeds African black-footed penguins as part of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program between zoos and aquariums designed to maintain sustainable populations.