Northern Gannet | Oceana Canada

Canadian Marine Life Encyclopedia

Northern Gannet

Morus bassanus

Also known as

Gannet

Distribution

Both sides of the Atlantic; from Labrador and Norway south to the equator

Ecosystem/Habitat

Nest on rocky shores & cliffs; feed in the ocean

Feeding Habits

Active (diving) predator

Conservation Status

Not listed

Taxonomy

Order Siliformes (cormorants, gannets & relatives); Family Sulidae (gannets and boobies)

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Northern gannets live the vast majority of their lives at sea, only coming ashore to breed and raise their chicks. They are fast and powerful flyers, but can also glide for hours just above the waves, barely flapping their wings. They are plunge-divers, able to enter the water from heights of more than 30 meters in search of fish. Although most of their dives are relatively shallow, Northern gannets can go as deep as 22 meters, using their large webbed feet and wings to swim down in pursuit of fish. After spotting a fish, gannets will wheel around in the air and dive nearly straight down. Just before entering the water they thrust their wings out straight behind their back in a torpedo-like fashion, allowing them to pierce through the water at incredible speeds. 

Northern gannets are one of the largest seabirds in North America. They are almost completely white, except for their black wing tips. During the breeding season, the whitish plumage on their head turns a saffron-yellow colour. Northern gannets have a strongly pointed beak that is blue-gray in colour and they have striking icy blue eyes. Their black, webbed feet have distinct pale green stripes that run along their foot bone. Young gannets are brown with white flecks, becoming whiter with each passing season until they reach their complete adult plumage at around four or five years old.