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Northern Gannet Morus bassanus


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Northern Gannet
credit: Andreas Trepte/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Sulidae, Boobies and Gannets view all from this family

Description ADULT Has essentially white body plumage with black wingtips (primaries). Note the buffy yellow wash to the head. JUVENILE Has dark brown plumage, speckled with white dots. 2nd-WINTER Similar to juvenile, but under_parts are mainly white; typically the head and neck are white except for a dark cap. 3rd-WINTER Recalls adult, but shows extensive dark feathering on the back and inner wings. 4th-WINTER Similar to adult, but some of the secondaries on the inner wing are dark.

Dimensions Length: 35-40" (89-102 cm)

Habitat Very locally common in North Atlantic, nesting in dense concentrations on precipitous sea cliffs, inaccessible to ground predators. Six colonies exist in North America, three on Atlantic coast of Newfoundland and three in Gulf of St. Lawrence. Outside breeding season, moves south down Atlantic seaboard.

Observation Tips Superb views can be had (May-Jul) at Cape St. Mary's Ecological Reserve on Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula. Otherwise, seen on pelagic trips and from headlands.

Range Eastern Canada, Florida, Mid-Atlantic, Texas, Southeast, New England

Voice Silent at sea, but nesting birds utter harsh grating calls.

Similar Species Masked Booby Sula dactylatra (L 32-33 in) adult is similar to adult Northern Gannet, but note that all flight feathers (not just primaries) are black and has black tail; face has black "mask" at base of bill. Juvenile is similar to juvenile Northern Gannet, but note the white neck and entirely white underwing coverts (only inner underwing coverts are white in Northern Gannet). Breeds on the Dry Tortuga islands and seen at sea in Gulf of Mexico in spring and summer; outside breeding season, range is oceanic and sometimes wanders north along Atlantic seaboard.

Discussion A distinctive species, and one of the largest seabirds in the region. Recognized in flight by its cigar-shaped body and long, narrow wings. Flies with deep, powerful wingbeats, but in strong winds it glides effortlessly on stiffly held wings. Bill is large and daggerlike. When a shoal of fish is discovered, groups of birds plunge-dive from a considerable height (100ft or so), providing an extraordinary spectacle. Sexes are similar, but adult plumage is acquired through successive molts over a five-year period.