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!