Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cape Gannet

Morus capensis
The Cape Gannet is a very striking seabird, identified by its yellow face and neck and sleek white and black feathers. They breed on islands off the Cape of South Africa, and winter along the African coastal shores. Fish makes up their primary food source, and they retrieve it by plunging into the water from substantial heights.

Cape Gannets breed on only six different islands, nesting in large colonies. Males arrive on site first and stake out a territory, females are then attracted to his site thanks to calls, head bobs, and shakes. If she likes what she sees, a monogamous bond is formed. The couple will work together to build a nest out of guano and plants, creating it in depressions on the ground. They both help to incubate the single egg, which takes around 45 days to hatch. After hatching, it will take 3-4 months for fledging to occur. Once the Juveniles leave their parents, they will head out to see and not return to breed for 3-4 years.

Unfortunately, the fact that the Cape Gannets breed on only six small islands means that they are quite vulnerable. Over-fishing of their main prey led to a population drop, as did oil spills, pollution, and guano collection. The six island breeding sites are now protected, and one site in particular has an interesting story behind it.

In 2005, Bird Island was abandoned as a breeding site, due to the spread of seabird-killing seals, but the birds were wanted back by the local human population. The theory was that because ducks will go to sites that have duck decoys, Gannets will as well. Gannet decoys were deployed onto abandoned nests, and voila! The Cape Gannets began to return! The seals still pose a threat, but efforts are being made to keep them at bay.

IUCN Status : Vulnerable
Location : Africa
Size : Length around 3ft (.9m), Wingspan around 6ft (1.8m)
Classification : Phylum : Chordata -- Class : Aves -- Order : Suliformes
Family : Sulidae -- Genus : Morus -- Species : M. capensis

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