Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus)

Taxonomy

Monotypic
Also known as (North) Atlantic Gannet

The word Gannet is often used as a colloquial noun to describe a greedy person or one who eats voraciously. From the perceived propensity of the sea-bird of the same name to down fish whole.


Adult Northern Gannet. Off New Jersey, March 1998. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson©, 1999.
 

Identification

The only abundant and widespread sulid in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. Ranges over continental shelf waters often coming close to land. May concentrate over sources of food. Breeds on steep outcrops often with cliffs. Very similar to Cape Gannet and Australian Gannet, especially in juvenile and subadult stages. These three taxa may constitute a superspecies. Adult plumage is not attained until the fourth year.


Subadult Northern Gannet. Off New Jersey, March 1998. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson©, 1999.


Subadult Northern Gannet. Off New Jersey, March 1998. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson©, 1999.
 

Where and When

Breeds in the North Atlantic in a broad arc from eastern maritime Canada to Norway. Non-breeders from Europe winter off sub-tropical and tropical West Africa, while those from North American colonies winter along the eastern seaboard to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

Common around the main European breeding areas of the British Isles, Iceland, Faeroes, Norway and Northern France. Occurs less frequently in the Mediterranean, reaching as far east as Egypt and Israel.

There are six breeding colonies in Canada with c.70% of the population in three colonies located in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Click here to view a map of Gulf of St. Lawrence colonies. By clicking on individual colonies you can veiw specific population statistics. The largest colony is on Ile Bonaventure (c. 50,000), a wildlife sanctuary reached by boat from Perce, Quebec. The three other colonies are in Newfoudland, the most important being at Cape St. Mary's Seabird Ecological Reserve.


First-year Northern Gannet. Off New Jersey, March 1998. Photograph copyright of Angus Wilson©, 1999.
 
The 'Gannet' is one of the few seabirds known widely to the non-birding public, helped of course by Monty Python's "Bookshop Sketch".......... 

Customer: The expurgated version. Bookseller: The EXPURGATED version of 'Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds'?!?!?!?!?
Customer: The one without the gannet!
Bookseller: The one without the gannet-!!! They've ALL got the gannet!! It's a standard British bird, the gannet, it's in all the books!!!
Customer: Well, I don't like them...they wet their nests.

Photographs on the web

Fabulous shot of adults hanging in the wind. Taken by John Chardine on Cape St. Mary's, Newfoundland, Canada.

Adult landing on breeding colony showing completely white tail and secondaries.

Detailed view of heads of breeding adults

Brian Patteson has posted a number of images on his web site: An immature (first year) about to land on the water. Also a nice head on view of an adult with a close-up of the same image. Finally, a dramatic shot of a large feeding flock taken off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina in Feburary.

Juvenile Detailed shot of the head showing pale blue iris and delicate speckling. Taken by Andrew Middleton at William Girling Reservoir, London, England on 16 Nov.
 

Literature

Nelson, J.B. (1978) The Sulidae: gannets and boobies. Oxford University Press, London.
Wagner, A., & J. Dindo. (1998) Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) mortality along the Alabama Gulf Coast. Alabama Birdlife 43(2): 1-3.


Copyright © 1999, 2002 All rights reserved Angus Wilson
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