|Northern Gannet range|
The Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) is a seabird and is the largest member of the gannet family, Sulidae. It has the same colors as the Australasian Gannet and is similar in appearance. Nesting in colonies as large as 60,000 pairs, this bird is a spectacular high-speed diver.
Young birds are dark brown in their first year, and gradually acquire more white in subsequent seasons until they reach maturity after five years.
Adults are 81–110 cm (32–43 in) long, weigh 2.2–3.6 kg (4.9–7.9 lb) and have a 165–180 cm (65–71 in) wingspan. Before fledging, the immature birds (at about 10 weeks of age) can weigh more than 4 kg (8.8 lb). Their plumage is white with black wing tips. The bill is light bluish. The eye is light blue, and it is surrounded by bare, black skin. During breeding, the head and neck are brushed in a delicate yellow.
Their breeding range is the North Atlantic. They normally nest in large colonies, on cliffs overlooking the ocean or on small rocky islands. The largest colonies of this bird, with at least 50,000 couples, are found on Bonaventure Island, Quebec, on the Bass Rock (whence the species' Latin name) and Boreray, St Kilda. 68% of the world population breeds around the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland.
In the United Kingdom, Gannets are a protected species. However, a legal exception is made for the inhabitants of the district of Ness (also known as Nis) of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland's Outer Hebrides, who are allowed to cull up to 2,000 gannets (locally known as guga) annually to serve as a traditional local delicacy—the taste is described as fishy.
Many of these Gannets are taken from Sula Sgeir, which is itself named after them.
Gannet pairs may remain together over several seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals at the nest, stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together.
They are migratory and most winter at sea, heading further south in the Atlantic.
When feeding, these birds are spectacular high-speed divers, plunging into the ocean from a height of 10–40 metres (33–130 ft), with their bodies straight and rigid, wings tucked close to the body but reaching back, extending beyond the tail, before piercing the water like an arrow. Their nearly vertical dive can reach speeds exceeding 100 km/h (60 mph) before entering the water, allowing them to penetrate 3–5 m (10–16 ft) below the surface, and occasionally swimming down to 12–15 m (40–50 ft). If the dive was successful, gannets will swallow the fish underwater before surfacing, and will never fly with the fish in its bill. Although they are strong and agile fliers, they are clumsy during takeoffs and landings.
They mainly eat fish 2.5–30.5 cm (0.98–12.0 in) in length which gather in groups near the surface. Virtually any small fish (roughly 80–90% of their diet) or other small pelagic species (largely squid) will be taken opportunistically. Various mackerel, cod, smelt, and herring species are most frequently taken.
Although Northern Gannet populations are now stable, their numbers were once greatly reduced due to loss of habitat, removal of eggs and killing of adults.
Predators of eggs and nestlings include Great Black-backed and Herring Gulls, Common Ravens, ermine, and red fox. The only known habitual natural predator of adults is the Bald and White-tailed Eagles, though large sharks and seals may rarely snatch a gannet out at sea.
Old names for the Northern Gannet include Solan, Solan Goose, and Solant Bird.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Morus bassanus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- Cramp, Stanley., K. E. L. Simmons (1977). Handbook of the Birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic. ISBN 0-19-857358-8.
- "Birdwatching in the Outer Hebrides". Visit Scotland. Retrieved 16 April 2013.
- Mowbray, Thomas B. "Northern Gannet — Food Habits — Birds of North America Online". Bna.birds.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
- Mowbray, Thomas B. "Northern Gannet — Behavior — Birds of North America Online". Bna.birds.cornell.edu. Retrieved 2011-10-17.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Northern Gannet|
- Live camera from Eldey, Iceland
- Northern Gannets Pictures from Faroe Islands
- BTO BirdFacts - Northern Gannet
- Northern Gannet videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection
- Northern Gannet photo gallery VIREO