All photographs by David Lilly
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Northern gannets (Morus bassanus) are large seabirds that belong to the family Sulidae. They are known for their striking appearance and remarkable diving abilities. Here are some key characteristics and facts about Northern gannets:
Appearance: Adult Northern gannets are mostly white with black wingtips. They have a yellowish head and a pointed bill. During breeding season, the adults develop a distinctive buff-colored wash on their heads. Juveniles have more mottled plumage with dark markings.
Size: Northern gannets are quite large, with a wingspan of around 6.5 feet (2 meters) and a length of approximately 35 inches (90 centimetres).
Distribution: They are found in the North Atlantic Ocean, particularly along the coasts of Europe and North America. Large colonies can be found in places like the British Isles, Iceland, Canada, and the northeastern United States.
Breeding: Northern gannets are colonial breeders and nest in large colonies on cliffs and rocky islands near the coast. Their nests are made of seaweed, grass, and other materials, and they lay a single egg during the breeding season.
Feeding Behavior: Gannets are excellent divers and feed on fish, primarily hunting for species like herring and mackerel. They spot their prey from the air and can plunge-dive into the water from considerable heights, using their streamlined bodies to reach depths of up to 100 feet (30 meters).
Social Behavior: Northern gannets are highly social birds and often breed in large colonies with thousands of individuals. Their colonies can be incredibly noisy and bustling during the breeding season.
Conservation Status: While Northern gannets are not currently considered globally threatened, certain local populations have faced challenges due to habitat destruction, disturbance at breeding sites, and changes in food availability.
Migration: Northern gannets are migratory birds, and individuals from colonies in the northern parts of their range may undertake extensive journeys to reach their wintering grounds in the southern Atlantic or even further afield.
Observing Northern gannets in their natural habitat can be a fascinating experience, especially during their nesting and feeding activities. However, when visiting breeding colonies, it is essential to respect their environment and adhere to any conservation guidelines in place to protect these remarkable seabirds.