Les Etacs, or the Garden Rocks, together with Ortac which lies farther out in the Swinge, are home to a population of around 6,000 breeding pairs of Northern Gannets. These, the most southern colonies of gannets, represent almost 3% of the world’s Northern Gannet population.
The gannets began nesting on Ortac at the beginning of the 1940s. Gannets winter off the coast of Africa and arrive here in the spring. Their breeding period is from April to September which means that gannets stay in Alderney a lot longer than many other sea birds. They incubate the eggs for more than six weeks and once hatched, the chick remains in the nest for over two months. Gannets stay in pairs for several years.
The gannet is by far the largest sea bird found around our shores. Their wing span is around 6 feet and they weigh 8 or 9 pounds. They principally feed on fish such as mackerel, sand eels and herring, and the sight of them diving, with their wings swept back into a ‘W’ shape is impressive. They can dive from a height of 40 metres, and can reach depths of up to 20 metres below the surface. The speed of entry into the water is around 60MPH.
Typically a gannet will live to about 17 years old, although some as old as 37 have been recorded.
© Arthur Lamy