Key facts

Scientific name: Morus bassanus

Status: Breeding summer visitor and passage migrant

Breeding pairs: 220,000 nests

Conservation status: Amber

Length: 87 – 100 cm

Wingspan: 165 – 180 cm

Weight: 2.3 – 3.7 kg


Adult northern gannets are white except for their heads and wing tips which have a black triangular shaped patch. Their heads and napes are pale yellow becoming lighter in the late summer and autumn.

Gannets have long, pointed bills which are pale grey-blue and their eyes are white with a pale blue eyering. They have black legs and webbed feet.

Juvenile gannets are dark brown with white spots and they take about 4 years to reach full adult plumage.


Gannets breed in large colonies on cliffs. They build their nests on the ground from vegetation such as grass and seaweed held together with excreta.

They lay a single smooth, white egg which is incubated by both parents for about 45 days. Chicks are born nearly naked and are brooded for a few more days. Both parents feed the chick which fledges about 3 months after hatching.


Gannets feed at sea plunge-diving to catch small fish such as squid, herring, sardines, anchovies, mackerel and sprats. They will also follow fishing boats in search of food.


Where to see them

The biggest mainland breeding colony of northern gannets in the UK is at the RSPB’s Bempton Cliffs. There are also large island colonies in Scotland and Wales and can be seen offshore almost anywhere. They arrive in January and leave between August and October.


Jorick van Arneym/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Gannets do not have a brood patch and incubate their eggs with their feet.

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