Friday, April 27, 2012

Courtship on the Edge

It takes five or six years for the Northern Gannet to reach breeding maturity. When they do, they choose a mate for life. The gannet can live for around 17 years, but the oldest recorded gannet has been 37 years old.  Throughout this time, the bond between a pair of Northern Gannets is strong. They return to the same nest year after year to renew their ties and to breed.
The male gathers materials for the nest, often from materials left over from the previous year. They take their time wooing and re-building their nest. This is no Vegas marriage, it is enduring.

I isolated a pair of gannets at Cape St. Mary's and watched them closely as they went through their rituals. The gannet are often seen clapping their bills together as a show of fondness.  The sound of the clatter can be heard amidst the incessent screaming of the thousands of birds on the breeding grounds.  During this process, they are gentle and playful.
The pair work together to build the nest from existing materials or fresh materials gathered by the male.  Both hold the straw and weave it into a baby bed.
I am assuming the male is the one with its neck wrapped around the female as they lovingly position the straw in place. They simple can't get any closer.
Once set into place the pair enjoy a quiet moment of relaxation and romance of old. There is no sense of hurry or frenzy to get the job done, even though all around them seems to be swirling chaos. It is like they have stepped out of the flurry and are all alone in a romantic spot on the edge.
In a short while, they continue working together to build a strong home to raise their young. Bird behaviour is so naturally unrated and provides a wonderful plot line for many children's books.

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