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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sky-diving Gannets

Gannets soar near Cape Saint Mary in Newfoundland
We found another amazing seabird while we were in Newfoundland this summer.  They are called gannets.

Gannets are big, beautiful birds.  They are known for their diving.  They fly high over the ocean until they see a fish.  Then they fold their wings and dive straight into the water.  They dive so fast that they make a BIG splash when they land.  They dive into the water to fish for their next meal.  They can dive almost 100 feet deep and can travel over 50 miles per hour!

The colony that we saw at St. Mary's Cape in Newfoundland had over 50,000 birds in it!!!  The birds were nesting on the sides of a very rocky cliff called Bird Rock.  

Cape St. Mary in Newfoundland overlooking gannet colony of 50,000 
Because gannets come to this rock to nest, the colony is called a rookery.  The rookery covered a tall, flat-topped, craggy cliff.  The cliff was filled with nooks and crannies.  It was covered in mud, grass, birds, and an enormous amount of bird poop.  

Gannet colony on Cape Saint Mary in Newfoundland 
Approximately 50,000 birds nest in the rookery at Cape St. Mary.  Scientists believe that 15,000 breeding pairs, 7,500 chicks, 5,000 juveniles, and another 5,000 seniors live on this rock during breeding season.  
Adult gannet pair on Cape Saint Mary in Newfoundland
When baby gannets hatch, they have white fuzzy feathers.  Older babies turn grey and white and look just like the poop-covered cliffs around their nests.  
Baby gannet on left with its parents on Cape Saint Mary in Newfoundland.
The beautiful adults sure don't look like their babies!  Adult birds have white feathers, blue eyes, and black-tipped wings.  Their wings span over six-foot wing wide.  It can take nearly five years for a gannet's feathers to turn white.

These birds have an odd dance.  They shake and bow their heads.  Here's a video that we took of a mother gannet feeding her baby.  At the end of the feeding, they do a short dance.  You can also hear how noisy it was at the rookery!

video

Gannets have no external nostrils.  They breathe through their mouths.  Their skulls are built like crash helmets.  They also have special air sacks around their necks and chest to keep them safe when they dive.  Gannets are among the largest of all seabirds.

We were very lucky to see these gannets in Newfoundland.  In North America, they only nest in six different colonies, all in Canada.  

If you would like to learn more about gannets, click on these sites:

http://courses.washington.edu/vertebra/452/452gannets-spring2011.pdf
http://www.fws.gov/home/dhoilspill/pdfs/NorthernGannetfactsheetSE.pdf

For more information about all kinds of seabirds, click here:
http://oceanlink.info/ONews/OceanNewsReader/ON3.pdf



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