Nesting Colony of Northern Gannets - Cape St. Mary's, Newfoundland
At the southwest tip of the Avalon Peninsula lies Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Reserve, one of Newfoundland and Labrador’s most spectacular seabird colonies. About 12,000 Northern Gannet nesting pairs, 10,000 Common Murre nesting pairs, 1,000+ Thick-billed Murre nesting pairs, 10,000+ Black-legged Kittiwake nesting pairs, 150+ Razorbill nesting pairs and 60+ Black Guillemot nesting pairs are found on “Bird Rock” and the adjacent cliffs. In addition, Cormorants are common visitors/breeders. It is the largest accessible gannet colony in Newfoundland.
Famous ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson wrote of his visit to this colony “the birds…swirl past the cliff face like a blizzard of snow”. Peterson and British naturalist and ornithologist, James Fisher, visited the colony in 1953 as part of their 30,000-mile journey around the North American continent. Peterson’s description above pretty well sums up what I saw on my early June visit to Cape St. Mary’s, where I spent most of a day photographing gannets and other sea birds present.
Most of the gannets make their nests on Bird Rock, a 100-metre tall stack of sandstone, which is very close to the viewing area. In addition to capturing images of Northern Gannets in flight, I observed and photographed some of the gannets’ courtship and interactions. I also captured several gannets in flight carrying nesting material back to the colony.
Adults (at least four-years old) are all white with all-black wingtips. I am no expert on Northern Gannets but the bird shown above has dark trailing edges to the wings and appears to be a third-year gannet, in my opinion.
The first image below shows a younger Northern Gannet, which may be in its second year. The next image shows an adult Northern Gannet carrying nesting material back to the colony. It is all white with all-black wingtips. The yellow wash on the head is not easily seen at a distance, but is clearly evident in all of the images in this post due to the proximity of the birds to the viewing area.
Northern Gannets breed in tightly packed colonies, with much competition for prime nest sites. Male claims nest territory and displays to attract mate, with exaggerated sideways shaking of head. Mated pairs greet each other by standing face to face, wings out, knocking bills together and bowing. I was fortunate to capture some of these behaviours in the photos below. In the first image we see both bills of a mating pair knocking together. In the following image a male begins to spread its wings as it displays to its mate.
Below a male returns to the nest colony with a bill full of nesting material. After transferring the nesting material to its mate, the mate will continue to build its nest as shown in the next photo while the male closely watches over her. Please check my photo gallery (Gannets and Boobies (Sulidae)) to see more Northern Gannet photos.
New Gallery Photos Added Gallery
Northern Gannet Gannets and Boobies (Sulidae)