England: Bempton Cliffs – Northern Gannets

Bempton Cliffs hosts the only mainland breeding colony of northern gannets in England. The colony is about 15,000 strong (smaller compared to the 60K I saw on the Bonaventure Island in Quebec). The northern gannets are large birds with 170-180cm wingspan, colorful yellow heads and white and black feathers. Their cliffside and clifftop colonies are very organized with equal spacing for each nest and the single chick in each nest is fiercely protected and defended by caring parents. The chicks are fed and reared for 12 weeks during the nesting summer season, after which they are still unable to fly and drop into the ocean and drift until they mature further and grow flying feathers. The young gannets have more black coloring, that slowly disappear by the age of 3. Gannets are extremely aerodynamic with oversized wings that allow them to reach insane speeds of 55-65 kmh (34-40 mph). They are also amazing divers, folding into a spear-like shape and penetrating water surface like a torpedo – they can hit the water at speeds of nearly 100 kmh (62 mph). Interestingly, most birds die not of old age but because they go blind as eye retina is destroyed on impact with water.