Bonaventure Island on the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec is the place to go to see large numbers of this species. Often seen off of the East and Gulf coasts of the United States in winter, the spectacle of the Bonaventure Island gannetry should not be missed.
Northern GannetMorus bassanus
One of the largest seabirds of the North Atlantic, the gannet is a long-winged bird that plunges spectacularly into the sea in pursuit of fish. Nesting colonies are on northern sea cliffs; one at Bonaventure Island, Quebec, has become a famous tourist destination. In winter off southern coastlines, the gleaming white adults may be outnumbered by brown and patchy immatures; it takes four years for gannets to attain full adult plumage.
Field MarksA goose-sized white seabird with extensive black wing ends. Scales over the ocean and plunges headlong for fish. Much larger than Herring Gull, with a pointed tail, longer neck, larger bill (often pointed toward the water). Immature is dusky, but note the "pointed at both ends" shape. Young birds in transition may have a splotched piebald look.
Size38" (95 cm)
VoiceIn colony, a low barking arrah.
MigrationMigrates offshore along Atlantic Coast, some going around tip of Florida and along Gulf Coast to Texas. Immatures tend to winter farther south than adults. Many (especially adults) winter far offshore as far north as New England. Non-breeders may remain south of breeding grounds in summer.
HabitatOceanic; often well offshore. Breeds colonially on sea cliffs. Forages at sea, from fairly close inshore to out of sight of land, but mostly over waters of continental shelf. In cold-water areas in summer, but winters to edge of tropics. Nests on cliffs and ledges of islands, sometimes on steep protected cliffs of mainland.
FeedingDiet: Mainly fish. Feeds mostly on small fish (1-12" in length) of types that live in dense schools, including herring, sand lance, cod, pollack, menhaden. Also may eat some squid. Scavenges for scraps and offal around fishing boats.
Behavior: Forages by plunging headfirst into water, sometimes from more than 100' above surface. Also forages while swimming, submerging head to peer below surface and then diving and swimming underwater. May take food at surface, or may steal food from other birds.
NestingUsually first breeds at age of 5-6 years, and may mate for life. Breeds in tightly packed colonies, with much competition for prime nest sites. Male claims nest territory and displays to attract mate, with exaggerated sideways shaking of head. Mated pairs greet each other by standing face to face, wings out, knocking bills together and bowing.
Nest: Site is on ledge or flat ground, often within 2-3' of other nesting gannets. Nest (built mostly by male) is compacted pile of grass, seaweed, dirt, and feathers, held together by droppings, used by same pair for years and gradually building up to tall mound.
Eggs: 1. Pale blue to white, becoming nest-stained. Incubation by both sexes, 42-46 days.
Young: Both parents feed young, by regurgitation. Age at first flight 84-97 days. Only one young raised per year.
ConservationDeclined drastically during 19th century because of taking of eggs and slaughter of adults, especially off eastern Canada. With protection, populations have recovered, with increase apparently continuing to present day.