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Last updated on April 18, 2014 at 11:11 EDT

Northern Gannet

The Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus, formerly Sula bassana), is a large seabird of the gannet family, Sulidae. They range through the North Atlantic. They are commonly found in large colonies, on cliffs overlooking the ocean or on small rocky islands. There is a one colony of this bird on Bonaventure island, Quebec with a total population of over 60,000 birds. More than half of the entire species, however, is found around the coasts of Great Britain, with the largest colonies on Bass Rock and Boreray, St Kilda. Most birds migrate further south in the Atlantic. Most winter at sea.

Adults are 34.25 to 39.5 inches in length and have a 64.5 to 70.75 inch wingspan. 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. Young birds are dark brown in their first year, and gradually acquire more white in subsequent seasons until they reach maturity after five years.

Gannet pairs may remain together for several breeding seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals. Stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping their bills together. They are spectacular divers, plunging into the ocean at high speed. Their diet consists of small fish that gather in groups near the
surface. Although majestic, powerful fliers, they are clumsy when taking off or landing.

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Northern Gannet