With a wingspan of almost 2 m, the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) is one of the largest seabirds of Europe. Intense hunting decreased the population drastically until the beginning of the 20th century. The meat of the birds was not only eaten, but used as bait for fishing. Today, the gannets are safe again and numbers increase steadily. Males and females bond for life and breed in one of around 50 known colonies which often consist of thousands of pairs building their nests side by side.
The photographs in this post were taken on the German island Helgoland in September 2013. Since 1991, the Northern Gannet inhabits the rocky cliffs of this tiny spot within the North Sea. The birds can be observed throughout the breeding season and display their behaviour without feeling threatened by the visitors. Once a partner returns from a flight across the ocean, the birds rub their beaks against each other and mutual grooming begins. The female lays one egg from which a naked fledgling hatches which soon turns into a flurry white chick. Once it grows bigger, the juvenile has black feathers. The cream white colour of the adult is attained only after five years.
It’s a truly wonderful sight to watch these beautiful birds fly along the cliffs in the strong winds!
They’re beautiful. I love your blog
thanks a lot! I’m happy that you like it!
Nice shots! I photographed the huge colony of gannets off the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada a few years back, and they were a lot of fun. I’ll have to check out Helgoland sometime in the future. How do you access it?
Thanks a lot for your comment! It’s actually really simple to get to Helgoland! You just hop on one of the ferries from one of the German harbour cities and after 2.5 hours, you arrive on Helgoland. Then you take a nice 30 min stroll which takes you to the colony with several hundreds of gannets… if you come at the right time, you can also see many common murres as well as thousands of black-legged kittiwakes – so I also have to go there again…
Matthias, can I ask you…How do these birds behave when there is a human around? offcourse there will be a difference during breeding time..but in general? lovely images especially the second one.
thanks a lot! The birds are quite relaxed with humans around and don’t flee even if you are only 2 m away. This has meant that they were hunted easily during the last centuries, but today it’s just great for the visitors! The colony on Helgoland is protected by fences, but you still can get very close and well you can’t really see a difference in behaviour whether there are humans around or not – maybe that’s also because they have been a tourist attraction since the first pairs started breeding in the 90s…
all the best, matthias
Thank you Matthias!
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