Northern gannet


©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION


©Peter Cairns/2020VISION

Northern gannet

Scientific name: Morus bassanus
Famed for its super-fast fishing dives into the sea, the northern gannet (or 'gannet') is a distinctive white bird with a yellow head and black wingtips. It nests in large, noisy, smelly colonies on cliffs around our coasts.

Species information


Length: 86-96cm
Wingspan: up to 2m
Weight: 3kg
Average lifespan: 17 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

January to August


One of our largest seabirds, gannets feed on fish, which they catch by diving head-first into the sea, their wings folded right back. Diving from heights of 30m, they can hit the water at speeds of up to 60mph. They have an extensive network of air-sacs between their muscles and skin to help cushion this impact.

How to identify

The gannet is easily identified: a big, white bird with black wingtips and a yellow head. It can be spotted circling high above the waves before performing its characteristic fishing dive.


Nests on coastal cliffs around the north of the UK, sometimes in large colonies like those on some Scottish islands, and at sites in Wales, North East England and the Channel Islands. Can be seen around most of our coasts during migration.

Did you know?

220,000 pairs of gannets nest around our coasts - that's 60-70% of the world's gannet population. Bass Rock in Scotland is a famous nesting colony where masses of birds can be seen and, very definitely, heard!