Saturday, December 5, 2009

Northern Gannets Are Back

Yesterday afternoon, while dodging huge raindrops that were whizzing by me horizontally in the ferocious winds I found a group of Northern Gannets off Holmes Beach on Anna Maria Island. These plunge diving cousins of the Brown Pelican are fairly common in coastal Florida waters in winter. You can learn more about them at this link. The nesting colony (known as a Gannetry not a Rookery!) closest to Florida that I'm aware of is on Cape Boneventure at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. From there northward they are fairly common in many coastal locations. Florida is about as far south as you can regularly expect to see this spectacular bird in winter. There are records for the Bahamas and Cuba but only rarely.

All of the birds I saw yesterday were in juvenile plumage like the one pictured below. From my experience in Florida in winter this is the most commonly observed plumage. When looking for them be sure to separate this species from the very similar-appearing Brown Booby, another plunge-diver but it nests in the Caribbean and throughout the tropical oceans

This spring I found Northern Gannets off Siesta Key Beach and Turtle Beach as late as May 5 but the bulk of them should have returned north by late March or early April.

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