Gannets are big birds. On the cliffs they dwarf their Guillemot neighbours. They have fearsome beaks and could easily do you severe damage. When volunteering to rescue a stranded juvenile I dressed in full protective goggles and leather gauntlets and went armed with large velvet drape curtains.
Here they seem to be masters of all the survey. Hundreds of them nest in peace, at least metaphorically. There’s an incessant clamour of a massive bird colony.
They are up to a metre long and can easily have a 1.8m wing span. That’s taller than me.
Life, however, is not all it seems. As we watch from the rocks on the coast we can see Great Skuas patrolling. I think they are looking for unwary juvenile Kittiwakes.
I’m soon corrected, as a Great Skua hurtles past in hot pursuit of a Gannet.
It’s hunting from above and behind, keeping in the Gannet’s blind-spot as it flies.
Amazingly, its sprint flight is so fast it catches up with the Gannet as the Gannet twists and turns in the air to try to shake it off.
Then they disappear around the coast. “Did you see that?” I yell. I had no idea a Great Skua would go for a Northern Gannet.
Wikipedia says, “Kleptoparasitism by skuas, particularly the great skua, occurs at breeding sites. The skua chases its victim until it disgorges its stomach contents, providing a meal for the attacker. Skuas may catch the tip of the gannet’s wing, causing it to fall into the sea, or seize the tail to tip its victim into the water. The gannet is only released when it has regurgitated its catch.”
Here comes another:
It has it firmly by the tail:
And there seems to be no escape:
I have an even greater admiration for Great Skuas now. They don’t even have protective goggles or leather gauntlets.