MARCH 6, 2014 -
Although it seems like eastern Volusia County has been sitting
under a gray cloud for way too long, signs of spring are showing
up all around us. Birds which wintered far south of us are
returning to find territories. The first songs of Northern
Parulas were heard locally several weeks ago. Swallow-tail
Kites have been seen soaring overhead. While we welcome
the return of some birds, we get ready to say good-bye to others
like the Northern Gannets.
These large seabirds which breed
in colonies on sea cliffs in eastern Canada, spend their winters
delighting sea watchers as they plunge into the ocean to hunt
fish. Northern Gannets are often described as pointed on
both ends -- tail and spear-like bill. While the adults
are gleaming white with black wingtips, the greater numbers of
the wintering population along the southern Atlantic Coast may
be the brown and patchy juveniles. Gannets take four years
to attain full adult plumage. Above left is a close-up of
a gray/brown juvenile, the patchy brown juvenile in the center
and the while adult on the right. Note the pointy bill,
tail. The long, pointed wings span about 6 feet. An
adult in flight is shown below.
feed mainly on small fish which travel in large schools.
They hunt by diving headfirst into the ocean, sometimes from 100
feet above the water's surface. They also forage while
swimming, submerging their heads to look around, then diving and
Northern Gannets migrate offshore
southward in the Atlantic, going around the tip of the Florida
peninsula and into the Gulf of Mexico and as far west at the
coast of Texas. Juveniles often winter further south than
Breeding first begins at about 5-6
years of age. Pairs stay together until one dies.
Breeding colonies are tightly compacted with competition for
prime sites. Males claim the territory and begin
exaggerated head shaking to attract a mate. Mated pairs
greet each other by standing face-to-face, wings spread,
knocking bills together and bowing. The males handles much
of the responsibility for nest building and pairs use the same
nest year after year. One egg is laid and incubated by
both sexes for 5-6 weeks. Both parents feed the chick with
regurgitated food. The hatchling takes his/her first
flight at about 84-97 days.
Out thanks to Chuck Tague
for sharing these fabulous photos.
Facts above were gathered from
The Sibley Guide to Birds by David Allen Sibley and Lives
of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman.