Gannets at Wye River
These magnificent soaring birds are often seen from our Sea Zen accommodation at Wye River.
We see the birds soaring out at sea, surfing the eddies on the air waves, way off the land at Wye River. Often there are just a few, circling and wheeling like aerial ballerinas, in a dance of death for the fish below. Sometimes many more.
On a good day with lots of fish, they will circle till they see a fish and dive bomb them from 30m above. One moment a stately glider, the next with folded wings a deadly bomber spearing into the water at incredible speed. Below water they continue their deadly mission swimming and catching unsuspecting fish underwater.
This pic shows the transformation from cruising glider to guided missile in a split second.
Most days, you’ll see just one or two cruising out to sea trying their luck. When the bait fish are running, there will be a crowd of 10, 20 or even 50. All whirling and diving in a feeding frenzy.
This 2 min Youtube video by Attenborough shows Gannets diving from the sky like a rain of Javelins!
These birds are rarely seen up close as they spend most of their time out at sea, so it is hard to get a sense of size. Called the Australasian Gannet, they are actually very large with a body 90cm long, and a huge wingspan.
Here is a Gannet at Melbourne zoo – about the size of a goose
- Name is Australasian Gannet, one of 3 global species
- dives from 30m, hitting the water at 140 km/h
- one of the largest sea birds, around 3 kg, 90 cm tall, with a wingspan of 2 metres!
- sharp bill is like a spear
- nostrils inside the beak to protect from the pressure of plunging
- air sacs on face and chest to cushion impact
- swims underwater to catch fish
- eyes forward with binocular vision gives very accurate estimate of distance
- lives up to 35 years
- Breeds July to Dec on rocky islands and headlands
- Populations around Australia and New Zealand are thought to be increasing
They are also called Boobies because human visitors to breeding colonies were ignored, with tragic consequences for the birds and chicks. Boobies meaning silly. Some people!
A breeding rookery on an island out to sea.
All these fascinating facts aside, we just like watching them and their aerial ballet routines out to sea!
For the inquisitive who want to to find out more, there is a PhD with everything there is to know, written by Machovsky Capuska in NZ.