Living Bird Magazine
Northern GannetMorus bassanus
- ORDER: Suliformes
- FAMILY: Sulidae
Nearly as large as an albatross, the Northern Gannet is sharp in every respect, with a heavy, sharp bill, pointed tail, and long slender wings. Adults are snowy white with black wingtips and a crown washed with gold. To see gannets hunting fish is one of North America’s great wildlife spectacles: flocks rain down upon the ocean, blizzardlike, by the thousands, looking like a force of nature. The birds’ excellent vision and vigorous vocalizing when diving helps them catch fish as well as avoid collisions with other diving gannets.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Northern Gannets spend most of their lives at sea, but at many beaches on the Atlantic Coast there are at least a few close enough to be visible from shore. A patient scan of the Atlantic between late fall and early spring is likely to turn up a few to a few hundred flying around in the distance. In the nonbreeding months, most are between New York and North Carolina. Through binoculars these may be pointy, slow-flapping specks, so bring or borrow a look through a spotting scope to get better views. These birds nest in huge cliffside colonies in places such as Cape St. Mary’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
- Alcatraz Atlántico (Spanish)
- Fou de Bassan (French)
- Cool Facts
- Northern Gannets have excellent vision. They detect foraging gannets at great distances, enabling them to move quickly to reach prey. Their sharp eyes also allow them to detect prey underwater amid the reflected and refracted light where water and air meet. Their eyes have special structural adaptations for plunge-diving, and they are able to see well underwater immediately after striking the water.
- Northern Gannets incorporate odd objects into their nests, which are otherwise mostly comprised of seaweed, mud, feathers, and excrement. Among the prizes found by gannet researchers in the nest walls have been a plastic frog, shotgun-shell casings, rope, lobster-pot tags, false teeth, a catheter, fishing line, plastic wrap, a gold watch, a fountain pen, and golf balls.
- Most plunge-dives are relatively shallow, but the Northern Gannet can dive as deep as 72 feet. It uses its wings and feet to swim deeper in pursuit of fish.
- In North America, the Northern Gannet breeds in only six well-established Canadian colonies: three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Quebec, and three in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. In Europe it is distributed in 32 colonies from the coast of Brittany in France northward to Norway.
- The oldest recorded Northern Gannet was at least 26 years, 1 month old when it was found in Quebec.