Bird O'clock

10 Fascinating Facts About the Cape Gannet: Seabirds of Southern Africa

Imagine a bird that’s pure white with sharp black wing tips and blue eyes. Meet the Cape Gannet, also known by its scientific name Morus capensis, a beautifully unique bird that’s found on the Atlantic and Indian oceans’ coastlines in southern and southwestern Africa.

The Cape Gannet is a fascinating seabird that has captured the hearts of bird lovers worldwide through its striking appearance, graceful movements, and breeding behavior.




Cape Gannet is a medium-sized seabird, averaging 90 cm in length, with a wingspan of up to 180 cm. The adult bird has striking features, with pure white head, body, and tail that contrasts sharply with black wingtips and trailing edges.

They have a large, wedge-shaped bill that’s light blue with black markings on the tip. Their striking blue eyes are surrounded by bare, black skin patches that give them a unique appearance.

Similar species:

At a distance, the Cape Gannet can be mistaken for other white seabirds like the Northern Gannet, Great Cormorant, and the white morph of the Red-footed Booby. However, the Cape Gannet’s coloration, particularly its black trailing wingtips, blue eyes, and wedge-shaped bill, distinguishes it from any other species.


Like most seabirds, Cape Gannets have distinct plumages that vary across their lifecycle. The first-year Cape Gannet has a brownish head and upperparts that contrast with a paler underbody.

They lack the typical Cape Gannet’s blue eyes and have a black beak at this stage. By the second year, the bird is predominantly white, with some mottling on the wings and some black markings on the beak.

Juvenile Cape Gannets have duller colored eyes compared to adults, with dark colors around the eyes.


Cape Gannets undergo an annual molt, meaning they replace their old feathers with new ones once every year. This process is crucial for maintaining their flight and insulation ability.

The Cape Gannet molts occur between the breeding and non-breeding seasons. During this period, birds move to the moult area, where they remain until they replace all their feathers.

The molted feathers have value to collectors and are used in the production of goods such as hats, ornaments, and other decorative items.


Cape Gannets are fascinating and charismatic seabirds that are essential to marine ecosystems as they control the population of small fish and other marine animals on the oceans’ surface. Understanding the bird’s identification, plumage, and molts make it easier to appreciate and conserve these amazing creatures.

With plenty of observation opportunities from their various colonies and during migration, the Cape Gannets are a must-see experience for any bird enthusiast. , but instead end with a call to action or open-ended question that encourages further exploration.

Systematics History

The Cape Gannet (Morus capensis), a large seabird native to Southern and Southwestern African coastlines, has a rich systematics history dating back to the late 1700s. The bird’s unique features and habits have made it an important subject for ornithologists, and several studies have contributed to our understanding of its classification over the years.

Geographic Variation

Cape Gannets exhibit significant geographic variation in their distribution, morphology, and behaviors. The distribution of the bird is limited to the African continent and its surrounding island territories.

However, within this confined area, different breeding colonies exhibit adaptations to different ecological niches. These variations have been used to identify different subspecies.


Based on the observed variation in morphology, behavior, and genetics, six subspecies have been identified to date:

1. Morus capensis capensis, which breeds in South Africa and Namibia.

2. Morus capensis albivestris, which breeds in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago.

3. Morus capensis dactylocynclus, which breeds on Gough Island.

4. Morus capensis graculus, which breeds in the Western Central African region.

5. Morus capensis olsoni, which bred on Penguin Island in Namibia and is now extinct.

6. Morus capensis veronese, which bred on RAS Kambinzi in Tanzania and is now extinct.

Related Species

Cape Gannets are part of the Sulidae family, which includes all the gannets and boobies. They are closely related to the Australasian Gannet (Morus serrator), a species found in New Zealand, and the Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus), a species found in the North Atlantic.

The two species share similarities in their morphology and ecology, including the ability to dive deep into the sea for prey.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The Cape Gannet’s distribution has undergone several changes over the years. The bird was once widespread along the African coastlines, breeding on islands that made suitable nesting sites.

However, due to several factors, including human activities such as habitat destruction, overfishing, and hunting, the Cape Gannet’s population has declined significantly in recent years. In the early 1900s, Cape Gannets were hunted for their feathers, meat, and eggs, leading to their decline.

Moreover, the bird’s habitat has been reduced to only a few breeding sites.

Breeding colonies have also been affected by climate changes, oil pollution, and introduced predators, leading to a further decline in numbers.

Conservation efforts have been initiated to safeguard the remaining populations, and measures have been taken to restore and create new breeding sites. The establishment of protected areas and programs to reduce human impact has helped to stabilize the bird’s population in some areas.


The Cape Gannet has a rich systematics history and is an essential bird in several ecosystems. Its variation in distribution, subspecies, and phylogeny have been studied extensively, contributing significantly to our understanding of the bird’s systematics.

Historical changes in distribution have, however, put the Cape Gannet at risk of extinction. Therefore, it is crucial to continue with conservation efforts to prevent further population decline and ensure the continued survival of these amazing seabirds.

Call to action: More research is needed on the Cape Gannet, especially in understanding the bird’s genetics and potential implications of population decline on the ecosystem. Continued conservation efforts and public education are also necessary to protect the remaining Cape Gannet populations and ensure their continued survival.

, but instead end with a call to action or open-ended question that encourages further exploration.


The Cape Gannet is a seabird that is found mainly in Southern and Southwest African coasts. They primarily breed and nest on offshore rocky islets and islands, particularly in Namibia and South Africa.

The bird is found mainly in marine environments, and their distribution is closely linked to the availability of food sources. Hence, they are often found in areas with high marine productivity, such as upwelling zones and places with a high density of fish.

Movements and Migration

The Cape Gannet exhibits both local movements and long-distance migration. They move frequently between breeding and non-breeding grounds as well as in search of food.

Outside the breeding season, the birds spread out widely across the Atlantic and Indian Oceans in search of food. Some populations are known to undergo seasonal movements, with birds breeding in more southerly areas often moving further offshore during the non-breeding season.

During breeding, the Cape Gannet is known to exhibit considerable site fidelity, meaning they return to the same breeding colonies each year. This tendency is thought to be a result of a combination of factors, including the availability of suitable nesting sites, food resources, and the presence of other potential breeding partners.

Cape Gannets are known to cover exceptionally long distances during migration, with some populations traveling as far as 3000 kilometers away from their breeding colonies. They typically migrate to ensure ample availability of food resources during the non-breeding season.

Their migration patterns vary depending on the breeding location, and coastal populations tend to remain close to their breeding colonies during migration. However, populations that breed further offshore tend to migrate to different locations.

During migration, Cape Gannets are known to travel in flocks and use updrafts and thermal currents to conserve energy. These flocks can often be spotted from boats, coastlines, or even aircraft during migration periods.

Colonies and


Cape Gannets breed in colonies, with some consisting of millions of breeding pairs.

Breeding colonies are found on offshore rocky outcrops or islands, which provide suitable sites for nest building.

During the breeding season, the birds form pairs, and elaborate courtship displays ensue as they prepare to mate. Once paired, the birds mate for life and return to the same breeding site each year.

Cape Gannets typically breed during the austral summer, with the initiation and duration of breeding seasons varying depending on the location. The formation of these breeding colonies and pairs is essential in the conservation of the species.

As such, efforts have been made in the recent past to establish and manage breeding colonies to enhance population viability.


The Cape Gannet is a fascinating seabird that is known for its unique adaptations, including its ability to fly significant distances in search of food and breeding sites. Their movements and migration, breeding colonies, and habitat preferences are critical in their conservation management.

Understanding the distribution and movement patterns of Cape Gannets is essential for their ongoing conservation and protection.

Call to action: Further research on the movements and migration of Cape Gannets is necessary to understand their migratory patterns and their impact on marine ecosystems.

Continued efforts towards establishing and restoring breeding colonies will help maintain their populations and ultimately ensure the survival of this remarkable seabird species. , but instead end with a call to action or open-ended question that encourages further exploration.

Diet and Foraging


Cape Gannets feed predominantly on fish, particularly pelagic or mid-water species like anchovies, sardines, and mackerel. They are also opportunistic and have been known to feed on squid and crustaceans.

Their foraging behavior is influenced by several factors, including weather conditions, time of day, and water temperature. They locate prey by flying high above the water and diving headfirst into the sea, entering the water at high speed so that they can reach the optimal feeding depths.


The Cape Gannet requires an average of 226 grams of fish per day. The birds are known to feed close to the breeding colonies when there are abundant fish supplies, and during the non-breeding season, they migrate long distances in search of food, traveling over 3000 kilometers.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation:

Cape Gannets are endothermic, meaning they regulate their body temperature independently of the environment. They have a high metabolic rate, which is crucial in allowing them to fly, swim and dive for food.

The bird’s metabolic demands must be met by a sufficient supply of food, which is one of the reasons why they depend heavily on an abundant supply of fish.

Sounds and Vocal



Cape Gannets are generally silent while at sea or during non-breeding periods. During breeding, the birds are known to become vocal, with males and females often engaging in a variety of calls and sounds to communicate.

The sounds they produce are usually low-pitched and melodious, and they use them during courtship, nesting, and aggressive displays, warning off potential competitors. These calls serve an essential purpose, allowing birds to locate their partners and communicate effectively.

Cape Gannets are known to use various types of vocalizations, including contact calls, begging calls, and alarm calls. Their contact calls are used to identify and locate their partner or offspring, while begging calls are used to solicit food from their parents.

When threatened, the birds emit alarm calls that alert other birds to potential danger.


The Cape Gannet’s feeding behavior, metabolism, vocalizations, and temperature regulation are critical in their survival and success as a species. Understanding their feeding behavior and diet is vital in the conservation of their populations, while their vocalizations help with communication and can provide useful insight into their behaviors.

Further research into their feeding and vocalization behavior is necessary to gain a comprehensive understanding of their ecology and conservation needs. Call to action: Cape Gannets are fascinating seabirds that play an important ecological and cultural role in marine ecosystems.

Continued research on their feeding behavior, vocalizations, and ecology is necessary to ensure their survival. With their populations under threat, there is a need for increased awareness and conservation efforts to protect this valuable seabird species.

, but instead end with a call to action or open-ended question that encourages further exploration.


Cape Gannets are fascinating seabirds with unique behaviors that are essential in their survival and success as a species. These behaviors include locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic behavior, and sexual behavior.


Cape Gannets have several modes of locomotion, including flying, swimming, and diving. They are excellent fliers, with tapered wings that enable them to soar and glide over the sea’s surface efficiently.

The bird’s wingspan allows them to fly long distances, making them one of the most efficient travelers among seabirds. They are equally adept swimmers and divers, able to reach depths of up to 15 meters to catch prey.


Cape Gannets spend a significant amount of time preening and maintaining their feathers, which are vital for insulation, flight, and water repulsion. They use their beaks to groom their feathers, removing dirt, and parasites while spreading oils that help keep their feathers waterproof.



Cape Gannets are social birds and are known to exhibit agonistic behaviors such as territorial defense, displays, and fights. During breeding, the birds become territorial and will protect their nesting areas against intruders.



During breeding, Cape Gannets form pairs and engage in elaborate courtship displays, which include calls, dances, and physical interactions. Once paired, the birds remain faithful for life and return to the same breeding site each year.


Breeding is a crucial aspect of the Cape Gannet’s ecology, and a successful breeding season is critical in ensuring the survival of the species. Cape Gannets are colonial breeders, and they typically breed during the austral summer, constructing their nests on rocky outcrops or islands close to food resources.

Once paired, the birds work together to construct their nesting sites, a simple depression in the ground, and decorate it with vegetation and guano. The female lays a single egg, which is incubated by both parents.

The incubation period lasts between 43 and 46 days, after which the chick hatches. The young chick is entirely dependent on its parents for the first few weeks of life, with both parents sharing and taking turns feeding, grooming and protecting it.

In approximately three months, the chick is fully grown and ready to fly, marking the end of the breeding season.

Demography and Populations

The Cape Gannet’s populations have declined significantly in recent years, mainly due to habitat destruction, overfishing, and pollution. The IUCN Red List categorizes the Cape Gannet as a vulnerable species, and conservation efforts are in place to save the bird from extinction.

Conservation programs that have been put in place include the establishment of protected areas, monitoring of breeding sites, reduction of human impact, and public education. Several breeding colonies have also been established, helping to alleviate pressure on natural nesting sites.

In conclusion, the Cape Gannet’s behavior, including locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic and sexual behavior, as well as their breeding ecology, are essential in the conservation of their populations. Understanding their demography and populations will enable researchers to formulate conservation strategies that will ensure the continued survival of this remarkable seabird species.

Call to action: More research is needed to understand the Cape Gannet’s behavior and ecology fully, and continuous monitoring of their populations is required to assess their conservation status. Conservation efforts should be intensified to protect the remaining populations and maintain their breeding sites and food resources.

The Cape Gannet is a fascinating seabird species found in Southern and Southwestern African coastlines. Through this article, we have explored various aspects of their behavior, ecology, systematics, and conservation.

The Cape Gannet’s unique features, including its feeding behavior, mating habits, vocalizations, and movement patterns, are critical elements in the species’ survival and success. Their populations have undergone significant declines, mainly due to habitat destruction, overfishing and pollution.

To ensure their conservation, there is a need to intensify research, monitoring, and conservation efforts. By protecting their habitats, improving breeding sites, and reducing human impact, we can enable the Cape Gannet to thrive and contribute to the biodiversity of marine ecosystems.

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