Bringing to life spectacles of natural wonder on our doorstep


Gannets c/o RSPB Image and ANdy Hay

Gannets are one of the Britain's most impressive seabirds - they're fast, agile and expert fishers. There are about 218,000 nests in Britain - and the British birds make up a large proportion of the world's population.

This large bird has a six foot wing span and it measures about 87-100 cms in height. The adult Gannet is pure white in colour with a yellowish head and black wing tips. Its face is framed by a fine black line around its beak and eyes.

The Gannet is an expert fisher - it can tuck its wings in and plunge out of the sky, diving down to the sea for food at speeds of up to 60 mph. As the birds hit the water, they deploy 'airbags' around their neck and throat to absorb the impact. The velocity of the dive can take them 15 metres under the water – and the birds have special membranes which protect their eyes. Once submerged the birds spend a relatively short time under the water grabbing fish with their serrated beak, only eating it when they've surfaced.

Gannets have an unfair reputation for being greedy. An adult bird will travel 200 miles from its colony in search of fish.  When they hunt out at sea, the birds are normally hoping to catch herring or mackerel.

When Gannets are reunited with their mate in the spring, they behave like long-lost lovers, caressing each other tenderly and performing affectionate greeting rituals. The birds stay together for several breeding seasons.

Photo credits

Photos courtesy of RSPB Images and BBC.

Web links


RSPB Images

Scottish National Heritage - Isle of May

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Photo gallery

Watch and Listen

Watch a group of Gannets diving into the sea in a feeding frenzy off Bass Rock in Scotland:

Watch the video clip

Listen to the sound of Gannets on the RSPB website:

Listen to the audio clip


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Tips for viewing this species:

  • The best time to see Gannets is between May and August. The breeding birds arrive at their colonies from January and leave in August and September. Non-breeding birds can be seen year round in coastal areas.
  • Great places to see large colonies of Gannets include Bass Rock (Scotland), Bempton (Yorkshire), Troup Head (Scotland), St Kilda, the Northern Isles and Grassholm (Wales).
  • Don't confuse Gannets with other white seabirds such as large Gulls or the Fulmar. The Gannet is a very large bird with a longer neck than a gull. It also has a long pointed beak and a yellowish-gold head. The Fulmar lacks the Gannet's golden head colouring and flies with a different motion low over the sea on stiffer wings.
  • Bempton Cliffs is a good place to watch Gannets at close quarters from land or sea. During the breeding season vast numbers of seabirds are present and can be seen from coastal paths and viewpoints.
  • Take a boat trip. There are services from North Berwick to Bass Rock off the east coast of Scotland. Make sure the boat is stocked up with 'chum' comprising a mash of fish heads and guts. For Gannets this smelly mixture acts like a food magnet. The RSPB runs the Yorkshire Belle boat trip from Bridlington to Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire where there are spectacular views of Gannets and other sea birds.
  • Look for the Gannet's distinctive wingbeats and its powerful but effortless, gliding  motion.
  • Gannets can be seen year round off coastal areas where they live in large colonies. Look for them in flight or on land nesting in rocky crannies.
  • Listen for the Gannet's call - a throaty, deep cackling call.
  • Follow your nose - the smell of a Gannet colony is unmistakable!


Gannets are sea birds and live primarily in colonies off the coast of north and west Britain. There are large colonies at Bass Rock (Scotland), Bempton (Yorkshire), Troup Head (Scotland) and St Kilda.

Gannet c/o RSPB Images and Andy Hay

There about 3,500 Gannets at Bempton in Yorkshire - the colony has grown from around 30 pairs in the late 1960's when the first birds arrived, using the cliffs as an overspill from Bass Rock further up the coast.

Bass Rock is a big lump of extinct volcano covered with tens of thousands of Gannets. It's the second biggest Gannet colony in the world with about 100,000 birds packed onto its rocky crags.

The birds make their nests from seaweed, grass and earth held together by the bird's droppings. The chicks brood between the legs of the parents, and both adults have responsibility for rearing the young chicks. After around 90 days the young bird leaves the nest and heads to the sea where it will stay for a few weeks before fishing and feeding itself.

The Gannet feeds primarily on fish notably herring and mackerel as well as sand eels, sprats and other fish.

Black Grouse lek c/o RSPB Images and Chris Gomersall

No. 4 - Black Grouse lek

The Black Grouse is one of Britain's rarest birds, renowned for the magnificent display the male puts on at its ancestral 'lek' or breeding ground.

Best places to see - North Wales, Teesdale, Scotland.


Atlantic Salmon c/o Gilbert van Ryckevorsel

No. 3 - Salmon migrating

The spectacle of the Atlantic Salmon leaping out of the water is one of the most dynamic migration displays to be seen anywhere in the animal kingdom.

Best places to see - River Almond (Scotland), River Tweed (Northumberland).


Starling flocks

No. 2 - Starling flocks

The aerial display of vast flocks of Starlings gathering together to roost is a winter spectacular not to be missed.

Best places to see- UK-wide. Brighton Pier and Gloucestershire are top spots.


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