Update Visit 2008 by Sue McGrath Communicated by Email to
Susan Sellers and I spent several days with Northern Gannets, they
dressed in crisp, white wings trimmed in black and heads tinged with a
yellow wash. They were diving at every vantage point on the Gaspe’
Peninsula in Quebec.
Northern Gannets are swift and powerful fliers. Their legs are short
with large, webbed feet that make them awkward in landings and
take-offs. We witnessed that less than graceful activity at the breeding
colony on Bonaventure Island. We watched them glide for hours just above
the breaking waves, rarely moving their wings. Their long wings have an
angular look. The wing tips, head and tail make four points in flight.
They are fascinating to observe because they hover momentarily prior to
their vertical dives. These birds can sustain the force of the impact of
their spectacular dives due to special adaptations and are designed to
be superb divers. Their thick skull acts as a hard-hat, and it's the
reinforced skull that cushions the impact. Air sacs [bubble-wrap like]
are strategically located in the neck and shoulder areas; they are
inflated during the plunge-dive. Lacking external nares limits the risk
of intake of water during the dive. They also close their pale,
blue-graybill very tightly so water doesn't enter their mouth. This
streamlined, torpedo-like body is nearly resistance free.
From a good height, these birds glided above the swiftly moving water,
and with their binocular vision, they spied the scaled and slippery prey
in the turbulent water. Once they had visually located their next meal,
they began the descent. With wings tucked and back extended, they
entered the water. The head-first dives at amazing speed enthralled us.
As they plunged into the water, these aerialists drew us in. They were
under and then resurfaced. We were students of this vertical diver as we
watched intently. The magnificent and dramatic sight of these
accomplished fliers with hollow bones and air sacs continues to intrigue
us. The wedge-shaped head and the bill which is stout at the base and
narrows to the tip are almost arrow-like. Their wings and feet aid in
pursuit of herring, mackerel, capelin and squid underwater.
While on Bonaventure Island, we watched these birds on their breeding
ground. Their feet are totipalmate with all four toes united by webbing.
We studied the pale, green lines along their legs and each of their
toes. Both sexes look alike, lacking sexual dimorphism. Males and
females share incubation of a lone, light, bluish white, kelp-stained
egg with their feet since they lack brood patches. Year after year, they
occupy the same nest as it becomes a heap of feathers, kelp, fish bones
We spent hours with the birds, lured by their ice-blue eyes, their dives
and their crisp plumage. We witnessed billing, copulation, allopreening,
nest construction and nest material delivery.
Bonaventure Island ~ Northern Gannet Colony Data
We spent some time with some Canadian Wildlife Bird Surveyors and
gleaned much from them. They were conducting surveys off the Perce’ area
and shared the following with us:
These gentlemen told us that the next survey of Northern Gannets on
Bonaventure Island is scheduled for 2009 at which point they expect it
to be the largest and most easily accessible Northern Gannet colony in
We took an early morning boat but there there are several trips daily.
We circumnavigated the Bonaventure Island viewing the birds on the steep
cliffs, landed and hiked to the colony. The hike is about 40-45 minutes
on a well maintained trail. There are observation blinds at end of the
trail and a fenced observation area which affords close observation of
the Northern Gannet nesting site. We also had wonderful looks at Perce’
We took the 97 passenger Captain Duval II operated by Les Bateliers de
Inc. Phone: 1-877-782-2974
Tickets range from $17 - $20 Candian
We stayed at Le Pic de L’Aurore which has chalets, a small motel and one
house they rent. We rented a a small chalet with a kitchenette,
fireplace and was very affordable, clean and comfortable. We had
wonderful views of whales, dolphins, Perce’ Rock and Bonaventure Island.
Le Pic de L’Aurore: www.percechalet.com phone: 1-866-882-2151
Observe ~ Appreciate ~ Identify
Newburyport, MA 01950
Breeding Colonies |
Machias Seal Island |
Cape St. Mary | Bonaventure Island Gaspé|
Bird Island | Witless Bay
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