Wild Harris

Gannet

Gannet 6 ALeslie.jpgGannet    (Photo: A Leslie)

The gannet is the largest seabird in Britain.

It lives in large colonies on offshore islands - the biggest gannet colony in the world is in Harris, on St Kilda.

Gannet 5 ALeslie.jpgGannet    (Photo: A Leslie)

The wingspan of the gannet it six feet – wider than most people can stretch their arms out. The ends of the wings are black and this is how to tell the gannet apart from other seabirds when you see them at a distance.

Gannet 1 LCampbell.jpgGannets    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

After spending the winter out at sea the gannet returns to the breeding colonies in early Spring. They pair up and build nests on the cliff ledges, using things they find in the sea. This can be seaweed, but can also be bits of plastic and rope.

Gannet 4 LCampbell.jpgGannet Adult and Chick    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Both parents take it in turn to incubate the egg and the chick hatches after 44 days. It is white at first and both parents look after it by sheltering it between their webbed feet.

After three months, the chick now has a black plumage and at this stage the adult birds abandon it, and it has to leave the nest and fly down to the sea. At first it just swims on the surface but soon it learns to fly.

Gannet 3 LCampbell.jpgGannet    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

In order to feed the chick, the adult gannets need to fly out to sea to hunt for fish. They do this by spotting fish from the air, then diving down in spectacular fashion to get under the water and catch the fish. It folds its wings to get enough speed to get under the water, and it has a specially reinforced skull – it needs it as its head hits the water so hard.

Gannet 2 LCampbell.jpgGannet    (Photo: Laurie Campbell)

Both the young gannets and the adults leave the waters around Harris in autumn and make their way south to spend the winter off the coast of west Africa.

by Alison Tyler