Every Year Thousands of Northern Gannets Return to This Crowded Rock Ledge in Newfoundland

Bird Rock is the third largest nesting site of northern gannets in North America. The steep rocks here are overflowing with perching, diving and nesting birds during breeding season — a veritable apartment building for birds. 

It’s a popular spot for tourists, too. Cape St. Mary’s is one of the only places in the world you don’t have to take a boat to see gannets.

Gannets spend most of their lives at sea, and when they finally return to land, these beautiful birds are spectacular to watch. They come back to the same nest — and same mate — every year pointing their heads to the sky, preening each other. 

"Working at the gannet colony was amazing. It’s a spectacular setting — these amazing rocky cliffs and beautiful green headlands overlooking the sea," says producer Jeff Morales.

But that is where the affection ends. It’s bird-against-bird here; gannets compete fiercely for both space and food. Squabbles among the many neighbours are frequent and sometimes lead to serious injuries. Before chicks fledge and fly off the cliffs for the first time in search of food, they have to make their way through a gauntlet of biting, pecking hordes.

"Against this beautiful scenery, we were confronted by the noise and ruckus of the colony — which was deafening! For 12 hours a day, our ears were assaulted by the non-stop noise of thousands and thousand of gannets squawking. There was also excrement raining down on us constantly. Our clothes and equipment were coated in white blotches by the end of the day. Basically, we were living in bird poop and in a wall of sound.”  

But this gannet colony appears to be in trouble. For the last few years, researchers have noticed that the parents are abandoning their chicks at an alarming rate, leaving them without food to survive. Why this is happening isn’t clear.

Click play on the video above to watch.

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