by Sandra Allinson, Alabama Wildlife Center's Director of EducationLocated in central Alabama, it is not very often rehabilitators at the Alabama Wildlife Center
have occasion to help coastal birds such as Royal Terns, Northern Gannets or Brown Pelicans. Recently I spent 5 days in Theodore, Alabama at the oiled avian center working almost exclusively with Northern Gannets. Until then I knew very little about these birds. In fact, I had never even seen a Northern Gannet other than in photographs. They are beautiful birds with voracious appetites for fish. Adults are mostly white with contrasting black primaries and primary coverts. Their gray-blue eye rings and bills are finely outlined in black against buffy-yellow plumage on their heads and napes.
Intrigued by their beauty and raucous behavior, I spent my evenings in the hotel room reading about this species and thought you all would enjoy a little info on how the species hunts. On average, a Northern Gannet weighs in at over 6 pounds and has a wingspan of 72 inches--that's a large bird. Northern Gannets have long, thick, serrated bills (for which I now have a great respect) which make them very adept at catching fish. They are skilled hunters and practice a foraging strategy referred to as "plunge-diving." Gannets locate shoals of fish during flight at heights of up to 130 feet. Then, they tip into a vertical or slightly-angled dive, extending wings backward and close to the body just before penetrating the water's surface at speeds 62 miles or more an hour! AMAZING!
The Gulf Coast oil spill has brought together folks from all walks of life in a very unique way. Rehabilitators at the Alabama Wildlife Center (both staff and experienced volunteers) are honored to have participated in efforts to aide coastal birds. We have had a rare opportunity to work side-by-side with wildlife rehabilitators from across North America, veterinarians, veterinary students, U. S. Fish and Wildlife biologists and people whose daily lives depend on the health of the Gulf Coast. The long-term impact of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to our precious wildlife and coastal communities may not be completely known for many years. The experience and knowledge we gained, and the professional relationships we developed, will continue to benefit Alabama's native birds for many, many years.
Thanks to all of you who are making a difference by supporting Alabama's wildlife.