BirdLife South Africa is pleased to announce the Cape Gannet as Bird of the Year for 2022.
Gannets are spectacular high-speed diving birds. With their unusually narrow-set eyes and exquisitely painted faces, these birds are as unmistakable as they are beautiful. They feed primarily on sardine and anchovy; small schooling fish which form the basis of the food chain.
To compete with the many other seabirds, fish and mammals that also chase after these fish, they plunge dive to depths of over 20 metres. To do this they hover some 30 metres up in the air, spot a fish, and plummet headfirst towards it. They can reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour by streamlining their body, extending their wings backwards before literally cutting the water surface with their sharp beaks!
The Cape Gannet is an excellent ambassador to highlight two of the most pressing conservation issues facing South Africa’s seabirds. Cape Gannets breed on only six islands across South Africa and Namibia. Their population has decreased by over 50% in the last 60 years, resulting in the species being listed as Endangered. Cape Gannets are threatened by the lack of sardine and anchovy due to the combination of a shift in the distribution of the fish populations and competition with one of the most important commercial fisheries in South Africa. To compensate, gannets often resort to feeding on hake discards thrown off the back of trawl vessels. This is however a double-edged sword; they are vulnerable to becoming tangled in the fishing nets and, while the discards are enough to support the feeding requirements of adults, the lower fat content of hake is not sufficient to raise healthy chicks.