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Northern Gannet Fact File

Appearance

The northern gannet is a large, streamlined seabird. Across most of their body they have white feathers with the feathers on the crown of the head and the top of the neck being a buff color.

They have a pointed greyish-blue bill and ice-blue eyes. Running along the top of the beak and around the eye is a black stripe. The dagger shaped bill is helpful for grabbing fish.

Their wings are pointed, long and slender. At the tips of the wings the feathers are black.

Northern gannets have large black feet with webbing between each of the toes. The legs and feet are colored black.

The body of an average northern gannet will measure between 80 and 90cm (32-35in) long with an average weight of between 2.5 and 3kg (5.5-6.5lbs). Their wingspan is 1.7-2m (5.6-6.2ft) across.

Northern gannets are the largest of the three gannet species.

Diet

Northern gannets are carnivores. The majority of their diet is fish but squid will also be eaten.

Food is obtained by plunge diving in to the ocean. They may approach from heights of 25m (82ft) above the surface. Once they enter the water they can use their wings and feet to push themselves deeper.

Fish are swallowed under the water instead of being brought to the surface like most birds.

They have good eyesight helping them to find a food item. Once they are underwater they can see almost immediately.

These birds will follow fishing vessels to obtain fish from the nets.

northern gannet

Scientific Name

Morus bassanus

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Weight

2.5-3kg (5.5-6.5lbs)

Length

80-90cm (32-35in)

Wingspan

1.7-2m (5.6-6.2ft)

Lifespan

25 years

Diet

Carnivorous

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Range

Northern gannets live on the coastline of countries around the Atlantic ocean with much of their time being spent at sea.

They have been recorded from the following countries – Algeria, Austria, Bahamas, Belgium, Bermuda, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Canada, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czechia, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Faroe Islands, Finland, France, Gambia, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Greenland, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Libya, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Palestine, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Spain, Svalbard and Jan Maye, Sweden, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia, Turkey, Turks and Caicos Islands, United Kingdom, United States and Western Sahara.

Habitat

Most of their time is spent over the ocean where they will seek out food. They come ashore to mate mostly on offshore islands and cliffs but also at times on the mainland.

northern gannet

Reproduction

The breeding season is highly variable across their range owing to their wide range. Those off the coast of Scotland breed in January while those in Iceland breed in March and April.

Some flocks of northern gannets have been breeding at the same site for hundreds of years. Each nest site may play host to tens of thousands of these birds.

Males will display by shaking their head while the females fly over the nesting site looking for a suitable mate. Once they pair up they may be monogamous for the rest of their life.

Northern gannets mainly form their nest from seaweed, mud and feathers but scientists have found a range of strange objects incorporated in to them including plastic toys, wrapping, rope, watches, pens and golf boys.

In to the nest a single egg is deposited which will be incubated for six to seven weeks. Their eggs are a pale blue-green color. The parents will then feed the chick for the next three months. After this the chick is strong enough to fly out to the water and feed for itself. They will have two or three weeks of food reserves which they can live off while they learn to feed.

From hatching until around three years old they will have brown plumage which gradually becomes the white of an adult.

Sexual maturity is reached at four years old.

Behavior

These birds may gather in large flocks while feeding while some individuals are solitary. Feeding tends to take place in the early morning and late afternoon.

Northern gannets will fly at speeds up to 65km/h (40.4mph). They can hit the water at speeds approaching 100km/h (62mph). Their are air sacs between their muscles and skin which cushion this impact.

They communicate with one another using a number of loud calls.

northern gannet

Predators and Threats

Adults face predation from birds of prey such as the bald eagle, sharks and seals. Young and eggs fall prey to birds such as gulls and ravens along with the red fox and weasels.

The main threat presented by humans to the northern gannet is becoming bycatch in fisheries. This risk is leading to large losses within this species and if fishing practices are not modified to prevent this then it will likely lead to extinction.

Other threats are hunting for food and plastic pollution.

Quick facts

They are also known as the solan and solan goose.

Over half of the world's northern gannet population lives around the coast of the United Kingdom.

Photo Gallery

northern gannet
northern gannet

Photo Credits

Under License

References

Christansen, P.,2019. Birds. 2nd ed. London: Amber Books.

Burnie, D., 2011. Animal. 3rd ed. London: DK

BirdLife International. 2018. Morus bassanus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2018: e.T22696657A132587285. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22696657A132587285.en. Downloaded on 27 December 2020.

Ebird.org. 2020. Northern Gannet – Ebird. [online] Available at: <https://ebird.org/species/norgan> [Accessed 27 December 2020].

Allaboutbirds.org. 2020. Northern Gannet Overview, All About Birds, Cornell Lab Of Ornithology. [online] Available at: <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Gannet/overview#> [Accessed 27 December 2020].

Oceanwide expeditions. 2020. Northern Gannet. [online] Available at: <https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/northern-gannet> [Accessed 27 December 2020].

Dewey, T. 2009. "Morus bassanus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 27, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Morus_bassanus/

Wildlifetrusts.org. 2020. Northern Gannet | The Wildlife Trusts. [online] Available at: <https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/seabirds/northern-gannet> [Accessed 27 December 2020].

Oceana Canada. 2020. Northern Gannet. [online] Available at: <https://oceana.ca/en/marine-life/seabirds/northern-gannet> [Accessed 27 December 2020].

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