The new Bird of the Year: The Cape Gannet

Posted on the 14th December 2021

(This article first appeared in the BirdLife South Africa e-Newsletter: December 2021 – Ed.)

Gannets are spectacular, high-speed diving birds and with their unusually narrow-set eyes and exquisitely painted faces they are as unmistakable as they are beautiful. They feed primarily on sardines and anchovies, which are small schooling fish at the base of the food web. To compete with the many other seabirds, fish and mammals that also prey on these fish, gannets plunge-dive to depths of more than 20m. To do this, they hover some 30m up in the air, spot a fish and plummet head-first towards it. By streamlining the body and extending the wings backward, they can reach speeds of up to 100km/h before cutting the water’s surface with their sharp beaks.

Breeding on only six islands in South Africa and Namibia, the Cape Gannet population has experienced a decline of more than 50% in the past 60 years and the species is now listed as Endangered. Food scarcity, resulting from the combination of a shift in the distribution of anchovies and sardines and competition with one of the most important commercial fisheries in South Africa, is a factor in this decline. To compensate, gannets often resort to feeding on hake discards thrown off the back of trawl vessels. This, however, is a double-edged sword: the birds risk becoming entangled in the fishing nets and the hake discards, while sufficient for adults, do not provide enough nutrition for growing chicks.

Throughout 2022, BirdLife South Africa will create awareness about the Cape Gannet by producing an informative poster, developing learning resources for schools (free to download from, publishing articles in African Birdlife magazine and on social media, delivering presentations to interested groups and selling merchandise. Cape Gannet merchandise (T-shirts, pin badges and plush toys) will be sold by the Shop for the Birds! from January 2022 (

BirdLife South Africa is grateful to the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust for sponsoring the Bird of the Year 2022.
Don’t forget that all the educational resources for Bird of the Year 2021, the Cape Rockjumper, are still available for free online. You can download lesson plans, infographics, fact files and drawings for the Cape Rockjumper at


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