The Northern Gannet, one of the largest sea birds


Of all the known mad species, that of the Northern Gannet is the only one to live in Europe. Marine bird par excellence, it is the largest that can easily be observed in the waters of mainland France. You want to know more ? Our article reveals the essentials to know about this bird which is undeniably out of the ordinary.

The name of the bird and its originality

What does the name “Northern Gannet” mean (Morus bassanus)? What is it referring to?

“Bassan” is the variation of the name of Bass rock island, located in the Gulf of Edinburgh. The Northern Gannet is indeed native to the North of Scotland. This island was already known for its colony of mad birds in the 5th century AD.

“Crazy” refers to the behavior that the bird adopts for fishing. Far from being insane behavior, it nevertheless seems incredible in the eyes of humans that we are. This is found in the scientific name Morus bassanus, the Latin word morus meaning “extravagant” or “crazy”.

This bird adopts a unique technique. It flies to spot a school of fish then, once it is found, it dives in dive, sometimes from a height of 30 meters and more, because it has a particular sight. piercing. Before entering the water, it carefully folds its wings along the body and slices the surface of the water without injuring itself, even though it was able to reach a speed of 100 km / h. This allows it to cross the school of fish spotted and reach a depth of 6 to 7 meters, to finally go up again, splitting again the school which has in the meantime reformed, by seizing its prey in the process, completely consumed once that the bird emerges. It swims very well thanks to its webbed legs. Mackerel, capelin, sardines or even herring have their preferences. It is between 400 and 700 g of fish that a Northern Gannet consumes every day.

It is known that man has often been inspired by the animal world to develop certain technologies. The typical aerodynamic profile adopted by this bird having shown all its effectiveness in cutting through the waters, the designers of the Concorde would have been inspired by it to develop the design of the famous plane.

In contrast to these moments of prowess, its flight is heavy if the bird does not find sufficient winds to help it. He absolutely has to start from the top of a cliff. Once in flight, the Northern Gannet turns out to be a very good glider: it must be said that it can count on a wingspan of 1.80 meters.

A unique look

Its head is colored yellow on the back, often more vividly during the breeding season. Its neck is quite long and powerful. Its beak is solid, drawing a pointed shape fitting perfectly into the extension of the curves of the head. His eyes, colored a very light blue, are also characteristic and unusual. Even posed, the body of the animal presents a fine, elegant and slender silhouette. Its long white wings are black at the ends.

It is really impossible to confuse it with any other species. The male is, it seems, a little smaller than the female, but it is quite imperceptible to the naked eye. Young-of-the-year have uniform, dark brown plumage, but the bill already has its definitive light gray color. Their plumage will take four years to turn white like that of adults.

The strong presence of the Northern Gannet

The Northern Gannet is one of those faithful birds whose pair form for life from the moment the birds have reached their sexual maturity, around 5-6 years old. Before this moment, the young people live alone.

The Sept-Iles reserve, located in the Côtes d’Armor, is known for the large colony of Northern Gannets it shelters. The largest would be located on the island of Bonaventure, in Quebec in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Rouzic Island has more than 20,000 pairs, present from the end of January until October. The concentration reaches 180 by 100 square meters. The birds communicate with each other by cries, the whole of which sounds like a cacophony to our human ears. This concentration is not without its problems. Bird species also present are embarrassed and forced to desert. This is the case of kittiwakes, common murres and fulmars initially neighboring. The droppings of Northern Gannets alter the plant cover and fill the ledges occupied by these species which hoped to coexist. Atlantic puffins, also threatened with extinction, particularly suffer from cohabitation with these birds.

The adults are partial migrants: this means that they spend the winter not far from the colonies, while being able to move a little further away to reach slightly warmer areas such as the Bay of Biscay or the Mediterranean.

Each year, the pairs return to the same site, reusing the same nest. This one is bulky, composed of Driftwood and other very diverse debris floating on the surface of the sea, associated with algae and guano.

Even if the pairs are formed, the mating is preceded by a courtship display. The fertilized female lays only one egg, usually during the month of April or May. Brooding lasts 40 days. The egg then hatches in June. Parents feed it for 12 weeks, preferably with garfish and sand lance. For this, they take turns, moving within a radius of 100 km around the nest, and often covering incredible distances of between 600 and 1,000 km. After 12 weeks, weighing about 4 kg, the young leave the colony. He will learn survival on his own. It seems difficult because 80% of young people die in their first year. A pair of Northern Gannets can hope to reproduce in about fifteen years. Finally, on average, only three young per pair will become future adults capable of reproducing in their turn.

The number of Northern Gannet colonies remains low overall and the existence of the species is fragile. This has notably experienced significant losses due to oil spills and wild degassing. The Northern Gannet is now one of the species protected by the Berne Convention. But overfishing is a threat and its future remains uncertain.