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The Northern Gannet in Gaspésie, Canada


With an impressive 1.80m wingspan, the Northern Gannet is one of the largest seabirds in Quebec. Undisputed master of the seas, it breeds mainly in the North Atlantic and disperses into the Gulf of Mexico and West of North Africa in winter. Adults have an immaculate white body with black wings tips. The head is yellow and becomes more intense during the breeding season. The length and finesse of its wings makes this bird very elegant in flight.

Between April and September, these fascinating birds gather by the thousands to nest, forming huge colonies. Most of them are located on islands in the North Atlantic, protected from terrestrial predators. The largest colony in the world is located on the island of Bass Rock in Scotland with recent estimates of more than 75,000 breeding pairs. The second largest colony is found in Quebec, in the Gaspé Peninsula, on Bonaventure Island, where more than 60,000 pairs congregate each year. As with most large seabirds, it takes the Northern Gannet several years to reach sexual maturity. It comes during the 4th or 5th year. The species feeds mainly on fish (herring, mackerel, sand eels, etc.) that it fishes while making spectacular dives, at an impressive speed of 90km/h! The impact in the water is striking. Once underwater, it catches and swallows its prey and emerges empty beak, hence the name "fou" given by the first fishermen who observed them.

Even though they often stay off shore, seeing Northern Gannets from the coast is possible with binoculars or a long view, following their flight with strong and regular beats, going back and forth in search of food and dive when a school of fish is spotted. Visiting the Northern Gannet colony of Bonaventure Island in Gaspésie is a unique experience. The sound of more than 120,000 birds communicating with each other is incredible! It is the ideal place to observe one of the largest colonies in the world. Bonaventure Island is easily accessible by boat and is relatively close to mainland, which also allows for beautiful sightings from the shore.

Since the species is protected, Northern Gannet populations are stable or even slightly increasing. It is classified as "Least Concern" globally according to the IUCN Red List (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). However, there are several threats to the Northern Gannet. On the one hand, the reduction of food availability linked to over-fishing and climate change has a direct impact on the reproductive success of the species. Indeed, climate change tends to alter the migratory routes for fish. Although the species is capable of travelling hundreds of kilometers during the day to forage for food, their fishing grounds are farther and farther to the north, forcing the birds to make long journeys and spend a lot of energy. This greatly disrupts the life cycle of the species. On the other hand, chemical pollution is also a potential threat to the Northern Gannet. Degassing and other oil spills can kill thousands of birds.

If you want to observe and photograph the Northern Gannet, only a few meters from the colony in Île-Bonaventure-et-du-Rocher-Percé National Park in Gaspésie, book our wildlife photo tour in Gaspésie!


If you dream of seeing and photographing moose, caribou, black bears and an incredible number of magnificent bird species, this 10 day nature photo trip in Gaspésie is for you!


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References :

Fou de Bassan – Réserve Naturelle des Sept-Iles., (consulté le 11/02/2019).

Fou de Bassan, Planète, Futura-Sciences. (consulté le 11/02/2019).

Inventaire National du Patrimoine Naturel (INPN), Morus bassanus (Linnaeus, 1758), statuts. (consulté le 11/02/2019).

« Les fous de Bassan sont en péril », Alexandre Shields., 30 juillet 2014 (consulté le 11/02/2019).

HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105, 696p.