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Bird Sightings : Hebrides : Northern Gannet

Hebrides bird sightings -  Northern Gannet

Northern Gannet

(Gannet, Sula, Guga, Crockak, Solan, Solan Goose, Soland, Solant Bird, Atlantic Gannet, North Atlantic Gannet, Herring Gant, Highland Goose)

Sula bassana, Morus bassanus

Gaelic: Sùlair

Photography © Alan Marshall
St Kilda - Outer Hebrides (Western Isles)
June 2007


Our Northern Gannet photographs :

Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet
Northern Gannet Northern Gannet Northern Gannet

Christine Walling sent a link to her Hebrides web site where she has a film strip sequence of gannets diving and many other gannet photos

  • Northern Gannet
  • Morus bassanus, Morus bassanus
  • UK: AMBER LIST. 219 thousand nests (Summer) BTO
  • UK: Migrant/Resident Breeder, Passage Visitor (Migrates Aug-Sept)
  • WI: Abundant migrant breeder (30,000+ breeding pairs). Present all year (Lower numbers in winter). St Kilda may hold the largest Gannet colony in the World
  • Breeding: From January - large colonies on cliffs on islands in North Atlantic (Including UK - Bass Rock, Boreray, St Kilda). Bonaventure Island - Quebec. Nest is on the ground & made of mud & sticks. Parents feed chick regurgitated fish
  • Winters: At sea. South of breeding range in Atlantic to W Africa and NW to Baltic Sea, Iberia. (Migrates August-September. Often feeding in shallow coast stretches & estuaries )
  • Diet: Dives from 10-40m reaching speeds of 100km/h. Catches fish up to 30cm length. Will scavenge
  • Largest seabird. (87-10cm, 3ft length, 165-180cm, 6ft wingspan). Cruciform-shaped. Adults bright white. Long, pointed wings with black tips. Long, pointed light-bluish bill. Blue eye surrounded by bare, black skin. Breeding adult head & neck yellowish-buff.
    First year birds smoky grey-brown with white spots upper wings & back , gradually getting whiter each year until maturity at five years.
  • Flight at sea steady flapping then low glides. Feeding flight: flying high, circling, slight hover then folding wings back & making a spectacular plunge dive into the sea. (Usually feeds to 4.5m) Sometimes single birds, but often feeds in groups. Often forms rafts on sea away from breeding site
  • Listen to a Gannet (RSPB site)
  • Max recorded age 37yrs 4 mths. Typical lifespan 17yrs
  • Similar birds Northern Fulmar, Herring Gull


Northern Gannets make their spectacular plunge dives for fish from a height up to 40m, they hit the water a a speed of up to 100km/h. To cushion their bodies against this impact they have air-sacs between their muscles and skin and a spongy bone plate near the base of the bill.

When one Northern Gannet discovers a school of fish, others are often attracted, as are other predators of the fish such as sea mammals and humans. A large group of Northern Gannets feeding may give a clue as to the presence of porpoises, dolphins or whales.


Northern Gannets have a reputation as collectors. In the seventeenth century Martin Martin found a brass sundial, an arrow, a red coat and Molucca beans in Northern gannet's nest on St Kilda. Nowadays their nests often include bits of nylon rope and netting in the structure. Sadly the Gannets are often harmed to the point of death by entanglement with indestructable rubbish.

Gannet pairs often remain together for several seasons. When one returns to the nest they perform elaborate greeting involving stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together. Northern Gannets are long-lived birds typically reaching 17 years and have been recorded as living to 37 years and 4 months.



Northern Gannet records in the Western Isles

Abundant migrant breeder (30,000+ breeding pairs). Present all year (Lower numbers in winter)
Source: Outer Hebrides Bird Report (2001)


On the chart below the darker the shade of blue the more abundant the Northern Gannet is during a month or the more likely you are to see it.

























(Source: Outer Hebrides Birds Checklist)



  • St Kilda holds the largest colony in Britain, Ireland and the World (Outer Hebrides Bird Report 2001)
  • The largest colony of the Northern Gannet (More than 60,000 gannets), is on Bonaventure Island, Quebec (Birds Britannica).

More than two thirds of the world population of Northern Gannets breeds around the coasts of the UK and Ireland in sites like Bass Rock, Boreray and St Kilda. These large colonies of Gannets spread across only about 20 sites, hence the Amber List status of the bird.

The Northern Gannet's numbers were once greatly reduced due to loss of habitat, removal of eggs and killing of the adults. In the Western Isles the young adults are known as Guga. On St Kilda they were killed for food each year in August just before the Gannets were about to migrate. Islanders would go to the Gannet colony at night and in a few hours club to death more than a thousand of the young gannets. Although Gannets are now a protected species they are still killed like this on the island of Sula Sgeir each year. Men from the township of Ness on the Isle of Lewis go out to and kill 2000 birds (a legal quota set by the Scottish Executive). The birds are considered a local delicacy and there is much excitement amongst some of the islanders when the dead Guga are available each year. Northern Gannet populations are now stable.


Other local bird photographs

Sources of information for the bird sightings section

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