Western Cape Tourist Attractions Bird Island Penguins
Where? Lamberts Bay, Cape West Coast Region, Western Cape
When? Summer hours (1 October to 31 March) are from 07h00 to 19h00
Winter hours (1 April to 30 September) are from 07h30 to 18h00
How? Call +27 (0)27 432-1672
It forms the other half of the paired fishing exclusion experiment (with St Croix) that studies the effects of fishing on penguin breeding and foraging behaviour. Fishing exclusion zones protect 20 km around the island, three years on, three years off, to see if there is an effect on the penguins.
Bird Island is slightly different from other penguin colonies because it is also one of the only places where you can see the blue-eyed Cape gannet, the only Cape gannet colony accessible to people, and one of only six in the world.
Connected by a breakwater to Lambert's Bay harbour on the West Coast, Bird Island is a three hectare island nature reserve teeming with birds. Cape cormorants, the Cape fur seal and kelp gulls also make it their home.
African penguins used to live on Bird Island in far greater numbers. However, the intense guano collection between 1880 and 1990, for use as fertiliser, left the island virtually stripped of its penguin population. They need to burrow into guano in order to lay their eggs.
Conservationists have thus been hard at work encouraging the penguins to breed by placing artificial nests on the island.
If neither Boulders Beach nor Betty's Bay is on your itinerary then Bird Island is a good spot to catch a glimpse of the African penguin, in amongst the Cape gannets (who make something of a fracas with their socialising).
To make it easier, the visitor centre now has a penguin pool where you can watch them in action.
The island's fibreglass covered bird hide is a huge space from which to see the island's birds up close and to avoid the stench of guano, which can be overwhelming given the number of birds.
The views from the vast windows are rather magnificent and the noise slightly less deafening from the other side of the glass.