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Gannet - Morus bassanus

 

You can literally see a gannet a mile off (and more). Scotland holds more breeding gannets than anywhere else in the North Atlantic.

It’s the largest seabird in Europe, not far short of a metre in length and with a wingspan of around two metres. Adult plumage is mostly white, with jet-black outer wing feathers and some yellow on the back of the head. 

I just love watching them plunge dive for fish. They glide high and use their superb eyesight to spot fish below the water's surface. Then they plunge down folding their wings back at the last moment  and hitting the surface at speeds of up to 60mph. Their bodies are specially adapted to this dramatic fishing method with sealed nostrila, protective membranes that cover the eyes and air cells equivalent of airbags in the chest to soften the blow of high-speed entry to the water.  Once underwater, they use their wings to swim down in pursuit of their prey such as mackeral. 

 

Gannets can live up to 30 years old. Both birds share the parental duties taking turns to incubate the egg under their webbed feet and to feed the hungy chick with regurgitated fish.  The chick grows quickly from a naked, helpless newborn into a large, fluffy white 'guga', and by 13 weeks old is bigger then it's parents and ready to leave the nest.  At this stage the plumage is black, speckled with white spots.

Two mainland colonies - at Bempton in Yorkshire, England and Troup Head near Pennan, Scotland. Big island colonies on St Kilda, Hermaness, Noss and Bass Rock in Scotland. 

Scottish Seabird Centre, North Berwick has a remote webcam where you can see all the action at the colony on Bass Rock.

Can be seen offshore almost anywhere, especially when they migrate south between August and October.

They arrive at their colonies from January onwards and leave between August and October. Non-breeding birds can be seen at any time around the coasts and the main migration period offshore is during the autumn.

Older adults scatter across the North Sea and the Atlantic, as far south as the Mediterranean.  The young head south towards the west coast of Africa.