Bird Photography Challenge #38: Australian Gannet

Australian Gannets (Morus serrator) soaring high above the ocean then plunging headlong into the water to catch fish are a frequent sight in Southern waters. We watched them foraging during a trip to Wilsons Promontory last month, and decided to make them the feature of our #38 Bird Photography Challenge.

What does it look like?

Australian GannetThis distinctive seabird has a mainly white body with black tips on the primary and secondary wing feathers and inner tail feathers.  The head is yellow and the bill is grey, long and dagger like. There is a striking black line on the chin and around the eyes and edge of the beak.  The feet are dark grey. The immature birds are mottled brown with white spots and speckles above, and lighter on the underparts.  With a wingspan of 150 to 180cms, and up to 95cms in length, the Gannet is a large bird.

How does it behave?

The Australian Gannet is an expert at fishing and diving.  You will it flying high in the sky, some 10 meters or more in the air, looking for prey or even herding fish into shoals, then suddenly folding its wings back and diving down vertically and spectacularly to catch its prey underwater.  Its keen eyesight allows it to see darting prey while blocking ultraviolet light reflections and adapting in a split second to the change of condition from air to water.

Gannets mainly eat fish which school near the surface, especially pilchard and anchovies, but will also take squid and garfish.  These are grasped with the help of backward pointing serrations along the edge of the beak and they are swallowed whole.

Gannet pairs stay together for several seasons and breed in large colonies on islands off Victoria and Tasmania. They perform elaborate greeting rituals at the nest, stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together.

Did you know?

Gannets can actually hurt themselves when they dive at break-neck speed into the water from great heights.  They are known to descend from 15 meters and hit the water in a second, to pursue their prey down to 20 meters below the surface.  Risks of collision with other gannets are high, particularly when they try to pinch a fish from each other underwater and have to compete with dolphins and sharks also foraging.  They can die of fatal head and neck injuries when such collisions occur.

Where is it found?

The Australian Gannet frequents the coast of south-east Australia, and a breeding colony is established on a promontory near Portland in South West Victoria.  They also frequent the New Zealand shores. We see them often along the Victorian coast and laughingly call the Australian Gannet the Unmasked Booby, in reference to its similarity to the Masked Booby – minus the head mask!  Bird Photography #34 was dedicated to their cousin.

The images in the gallery were taken off the coast of Wilsons Promontory with a Canon 7Dii and 100-400 mm lens, hand held.  Click on any image in the gallery to display in full screen.

9 thoughts on “Bird Photography Challenge #38: Australian Gannet

  1. I love their yellow/orange head and the way they soar above the waves. Great pics of them Chris, you captured their essence

    • Thanks Sue. They were spectacular and fun to watch as they were diving. Wished I could be quick enough to capture them plummeting to the water!

      • Do you not have a ‘paperazzi’ setting on your camera? We have one that when you point and keep pressing the shutter, it takes about 3 shots a second. We too some t’riffic whale jumping shots that we would otherwise have missed with a normal single click camera.

      • Yes And it’s always on for birds, but there’s the small problem of sudden drop at high speed… I can pan sideways for flying shots but the drop at 30m/s is a wee bit harder😊

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