Did you know?
Cape gannets have lost the use of their nostrils and breathe through their bills.
In flight, a Cape gannet is surely among the most graceful of birds. Also, when it turns on the wing to dive into the sea after a fish, how surpassingly lovely it is.
On land, not so much. This is where you can see how it acquired its Afrikaans name of 'malgas', which translates as ‘mad goose’.
Go to Bird Island just off Lambert Bay on the West Coast and you’ll see these coastal birds in the hundreds. Particularly comical are the take-offs. Gannets are accustomed to nesting very close together, but on a windless day, they need a long ‘runway’ to take off. A length of the island is designated as such. Once ready, the bird launches into an ungainly bounding gallop before taking to the air and becoming elegant once more.
Living so close together has required of them a kind of sign language they use to mollify others. Landing is a hazardous process if they do it in the wrong place. They are greeted with annoyed pecks which requires much sky-pointing and placating until harmony returns. Once they get to their mates, they will quickly bond again by fencing their sharp bills, bowing and preening one another’s feathers.
Loony appearance aside, these birds are consummate fishers. From a height of 30 metres, they can dive 10 metres under water, eating their prey before they surface. During the annual Sardine Run off the Wild Coast and KwaZulu-Natal, they seem to rain down on the shoals.
And a good thing too. Their young are voracious. When they hatch, the babies weigh hardly 70 grams. But they grow fast. Both parents can barely keep up with their demands. No sooner have they regurgitated food into its waiting beak than the baby begs for more. Ornithologists have noted that sometimes 1 of the parents will retire to the fringes of the colony to find a bit of peace.
Within 8 weeks, a baby gannet will weigh more than an adult. Shortly after that they are pushed out of the nest and live with other chicks on the edges, learning how to fly and be clumsy beauties, like their parents.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Lambert’s Bay Tourism Office
Tel: +27 (0) 27 432 1000
Fax: +27 (0) 27 432 2335