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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

What do gannets look like?

Adult 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, and they have black lores.

They have long, pointed bills which are pale grey-blue and their eyes are white surrounded by a pale blue eye-ring and a black line. Their legs and webbed feet are black. Male and female gannets are similar.

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

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How do gannets breed?

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

Gannets lay a single smooth, white egg which is incubated by both parents for about 45 days. The chick is born nearly naked and is brooded for a few more days until it grows white down. Both parents feed the chick which fledges at about 3 months after hatching.

What do gannets eat?

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 can I see gannets?

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.

What do gannets sound like?

Jorick van Arneym/xeno-canto

Did you know?

Gannets do not have a brood patch and incubate their eggs with their feet. The shell of the egg is relatively thick to support the parent’s weight.

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2 Responses

  1. Have seen a large dark spotted bird at mudeford beach Dorset it was a bout three times bigger that the normal small seagulls and it’s legs were longer and thin with big flat feet

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