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Australasian Gannet - Morus serrator
Topic Started: Feb 11 2018, 01:49 PM (85 Views)
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Australasian Gannet - Morus serrator

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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Suliformes
Family: Sulidae
Genus: Morus
Species: Morus serrator Gray, 1843

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Australasian gannet range

The Australasian gannet (Morus serrator), also known as Australian gannet and Tākapu, is a large seabird of the gannet family Sulidae.

Adults are mostly white, with black flight feathers at the wingtips and lining the trailing edge of the wing. The central tail feathers are also black. The head is yellow, with a pale blue-grey bill edged in black, and blue-rimmed eyes.

Young birds have mottled plumage in their first year, dark above and light below. The head is an intermediate mottled grey, with a dark bill. The birds gradually acquire more white in subsequent seasons until they reach maturity after five years.

Their breeding habitat is on islands and the coast of New Zealand, Victoria and Tasmania, with 87% of the adult population in New Zealand. They normally nest in large colonies on coastal islands. In New Zealand there are colonies of over 10,000 breeding pairs each at Three Kings Islands, Whakaari / White Island and Gannet Island. There is a large protected colony on the mainland at Cape Kidnappers (6,500 pairs). There are also mainland colonies at Muriwai and Farewell Spit, as well as numerous other island colonies.

Gannet pairs may remain together over several seasons. They perform elaborate greeting rituals at the nest, stretching their bills and necks skywards and gently tapping bills together. The adults mainly stay close to colonies, whilst the younger birds disperse.

These birds are plunge divers and spectacular fishers, plunging into the ocean at high speed. They mainly eat squid and forage fish which school near the surface. It has the same colours and similar appearance to the Northern Gannet.

Numbers of Australasian gannet have been increasing since 1950, although some colonies have disappeared and others have decreased in size.

The lonely life of Nigel the gannet wasn't in vain
The bird's presence was a poignant conservation love story.

February 5, 2018, 2:09 p.m.

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Nigel stands with the stone birds that made up his adopted 'colony' on Mana Island. (Photo: Gecko Lover/YouTube)

Nigel, a gannet who resided on New Zealand's Mana Island, lived as he died, surrounded by concrete "friends."

Ranger Chris Bell discovered the body of the gannet in late January, just weeks after three more gannets had arrived on the island.

"It seems like such a wrong ending for Nigel to die now,” Bell told The New York Times. "Just when it looked like it could get better for him."

Nigel and the real bird

In the 1990s, conservationists added some 80 decoy gannets to the island in an effort to attract actual gannets to the island. Their efforts were unsuccessful until some time between 2013 and 2015 — conservationists differ on the year — when a lone gannet arrived on the island. Nigel became the first gannet to call Mana Island home in 40 years.

The arrival of Nigel was cause for celebration and then concern as conservationists realized that not only was Nigel alone but that he was head-over-wings in love with one of the stone decoys that had attracted him to the island in the first place.

Nigel was observed caring for the concrete replica. He would groom the statue and chat with it; Nigel even constructed a nest made of twigs, seaweed and mud for it.

Naturally, the decoy never reciprocated Nigel's overtures.

"I think the saddest part of this story is what a frustrating existence to be courting this stone bird and getting nothing back," Bell told The Times. "Not getting rejected, not getting encouragement."

Revitalizing an island

Those three other gannets that arrived weren't much help in getting Nigel to come to his senses. They mostly kept to themselves on the other end of the colony, and Nigel, for his part, didn't seem interested in leaving his "lover."

However, their presence is a testament to the value of Nigel staying with his concrete paramour.

"From a conservation point of view, he was a massive asset to have. Because the concrete gannets — they may have fooled Nigel — but they never fooled another gannet. We always considered Nigel increased our chances of getting a colony going, and that seems to be in the end what happened," Bell explained to the Guardian.

The attempt to get gannets back to Mana Island is one of several seabird projects currently underway in and around New Zealand, and it's part of a wider initiative to bring native wildlife back to places that had been overrun by invasive predators.

Mana Island is now pest-free and has been repopulated with 500,000 native trees, lizards and other seabirds. The seabirds, in particular, are important to the island's ecosystem as they provide nutrients for the soil and for insects, reports the Times.

The decoys, along with solar-powered speakers that pipe out seabird calls, are scattered in small "colonies" around the island. They're intended to encourage gannets to settle on the island since gannets prefer to nest in areas where other gannets have already established a foothold.

In that sense, Nigel's lonely existence may not have been in vain.

"He was an attraction that helped bring in other birds — gannets like to nest where a gannet has nested before," Bell said. "It's really sad he died, but it wasn't for nothing."

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