gannet



gannet defined in 1930 year

gannet - Gannet;
gannet - Adult: head and neck buff-colour; all the rest of the plumage white, except the primaries, which are black. Young of the first year: upper parts blackish brown flecked with white; under parts mottled with dusky ash and buff. The dark markings diminish until the sixth year, when the adult colouring is assumed. Length, thirty-four inches.

One of the most notable seafowls inhabiting the British coasts is the gannet, or solan goose, a species which forms a connecting link between the cormorants and the pelicans. The origin of its two common names is not precisely known, although it seems probable that gannet is derived from gems, the ancient British name for goose. The young birds from the Bass Rock, which are largely used as food in the neighbouring counties, are called, I do not know why, ' Parliamentary geese.' The world will have it that the bird is a goose, although as little like a goose, except in size, as a guillemot is like a sheldrake. The scientific name, bassana (of the Bass Rock), had its origin in the belief that the rock at the entrance to the Firth of Forth was the gannet's only breeding-place. There are several other colonies: one, now greatly diminished, on Lundy Island; another, also small, on the coast of Pembrokeshire; on the West Coast of Scotland there are four stations, and others exist on the Irish coast. None of these, however, can compare in importance with the Bass Rock, where it has been calculated that as many as ten thousand pairs congregate each year to breed.

The gannet is an exclusively marine bird, and an inhabitant throughout the year of the seas round the British Islands. Its flight is easy and powerful, and its appearance on the wing more pelican- than cormorant-like. It feeds entirely on fish, and follows the shoals of such species as swim near the surface - mackerel, herrings, pilchards, and sprats. When fishing it sails at a considerable height, and on catching sight of its prey rises to a greater height, and then, with wings nearly closed, drops straight down, with great force, into the water. Its appearance when falling has been likened by one observer to ' a brilliant piece of white marble.'

The gannets begin to assemble at the breeding-rock in March. Their nesting habits are similar to those of the cormorant, but only one egg is laid, which is, like the cormorant's egg, pale blue in colour and thickly coated with a white, chalky material. Mr. Charles Dixon, in Our Rarer Birds,' thus describes a visit to the great gannet settlement on the east coast: 'By far the best locality for studying the nesting economy of the gannet is the Bass, that wide-famed mass of basaltic rocks standing like a sentinel in the Firth of Forth.... Upon reaching the Bass a few gannets may be seen sailing dreamily about, but you have no idea of the immense numbers until you have climbed the rugged hill.... But when the summit of the cliff is reached the scene that bursts upon our gaze is one that well-nigh baffles all description. Thousands upon thousands of gannets fill the air, just like heavy snowflakes, and on every side their loud, harsh cries of " carra-carra-carra " echo and re-echo among the rocks. The gannets take very little notice of our approach, many birds allowing themselves to be actually pushed from their nests. Others utter harsh notes, and with flapping wings offer some show of resistance, only taking wing when absolutely compelled to do so, and disgorging one or two half-digested fish as they fall lightly over the cliffs into the air. On all sides facing the sea gannets may be seen. Some are standing on the short grass on the edge of the cliffs, fast asleep, with their heads buried under their dorsal plumage; others are preening their feathers; whilst many are quarrelling and fighting over standing-room on the rocks.'

Describing another great breeding-place of the gannet on the island of Borreay, about four miles from St. Kilda, he says: ' The flat, sloping top of one of these stupendous ocean rocks, called by the natives " Stack-a-lie," looks white as the driven snow, so thickly do the gannets cluster there, and the sides are just as densely populated wherever the cliff is rugged and broken. So vast is this colony of birds that it may be seen distinctly forty miles away, looking like some huge vessel under full sail heading to windward.'

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