The Northern Gannets in their Breeding Colony
During breeding season Northern Gannets are colonial and they are known to populate entire cliffs, claiming the place for their species exclusively. Probably they are even gregarious although, at the nest site they are territorial, defending that place ferociously against anyone coming too close. Images and observations were made on Heligoland island.
Usually Nothern Gannets settle on the upper storeys of a cliff face and, if possible, they even set up nest on top of the cliff. They need the updrafts coming in from the sea to start gliding off the cliff and to begin their flight. Also they love windy and stormy days because these are perfect flight conditions for them.
If you want to watch and learn about their flight and aerial displays, then go out on windy days to the cliff and watch them during flight.
At the centre of the colony, nests sit closely site by side and there is only room the partner to stand close to the nest without causing angry reactions from the neighbours. There is not enough to swing a cat and birds returning from fishing and landing at the wrong site are angrily attacked from all sides. This is why Gannets tend to circle above the colony to find their own nest site.
At the colony there are always so-called non-breeders. They sit inbetween or on the edges of the colony. Some of them are very aggressive and try to poach a partner from the gannets breeding nearby. Also, we find immature Gannets from their third year onwards, dwelling on the edges of colony. These immature gannets do not breed. Some of them even collect nest material and build sort of a nest. The next image shows a gannet in its third calender year sitting on top of the cliff, in the middle of the colony.
There always much ado in the colony. Gannats are noisy and can be heard over distances of > 1km. Apparently they never sleep and even during night there is noise around the colony. It is most interesting to watch them and most instructive too.