The Northern Gannet is the largest seabird in the North Atlantic, with a wingspan of up to 6 feet. They are beautiful, streamlined birds with a bright white body, black wing tips, and a yellow head.
They nest offshore on Grassholm Island, which supports up to 39,000 nesting pairs – around 10% of the entire world population.
Gannets are best known for their impressive hunting techniques. They will spot their prey (mainly small fish) from heights of up to 100ft, then dive vertically at speeds of up to 60mph, controlling the dive with their wings then piercing the water like an arrow. They penetrate up to 15ft below the surface, and will occasionally swim down to a further 40ft or so, driving their prey deeper into the water then capturing and swallowing it before returning to the surface.
They are incredibly well adapted to enable them to hunt in this way. They have no external nostrils, and their secondary nostrils are automatically closed before entering the water. Along with this they have air sacs in their face and chest which inflate when they breath in, and cushion their impact with the water. Their eyes are positioned far forward on their head giving them binocular vision, allowing them to judge distances accurately and pinpoint prey from high up in the air.
The Gannets’ white colour also helps other gannets to identify their own kind, so they can see that there are fish present if others are diving.
During breeding season (April) Gannets lay a single egg and incubate it for around 45 days, with chicks beginning to hatch in early June.
Once born, the chicks are then fed by both parents for around 12 weeks until they’re strong enough to leave the nest, usually in late August and throughout September.
Young birds will migrate south for great distances, ending up as far away as Africa. After breeding season the adults will spread out over a wide area but do not travel as far, many migrate to the West of the Mediterranean, travelling over land as little as possible.
Trips to Grassholm to experience these incredible birds run regularly throughout the season on board both the Dale Princess and Sea Safaris, we can also arrange private group trips to suit your own itinerary.