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WATCH: Cape Gannet named Bird of the Year 2022

Gannets are indeed very cool birds, says the writer. Picture: South Africa Wildlife and Nature/Facebook

Gannets are indeed very cool birds, says the writer. Picture: South Africa Wildlife and Nature/Facebook

Published Jan 17, 2022

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There aren’t many star-studded Grammy level, award evenings in the avian world but BirdLife South Africa’s Bird of the Year would come pretty close.

BirdLife South Africa recently announced the Cape Gannet as Bird of the Year for 2022. The Cape Rockjumper was chosen as Bird of the Year in 2021

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BirdLife South Africa shared that “Gannets are spectacular high-speed diving birds. With their unusually narrow-set eyes and exquisitely painted faces, these birds are as unmistakable as they are beautiful.

They feed primarily on sardine and anchovy; small schooling fish which form the basis of the food chain.”

Gannets are indeed very cool birds. They dive, headfirst into the ocean to chase after the fish which form part of their diet and have been observed to reach depths of over 20 metres.

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“To do this they hover some 30 metres up in the air, spot a fish, and plummet headfirst towards it. They can reach speeds of up to 100 km per hour by streamlining their body, extending their wings backwards before literally cutting the water surface with their sharp beaks!” according to BirdLife.

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The Cape Gannet is an excellent ambassador to highlight two of the most pressing conservation issues facing South Africa’s seabirds. Cape Gannets breed on only six islands across South Africa and Namibia.

Their population has decreased by over 50% in the last 60 years, resulting in the species being listed as endangered.

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They are threatened by the lack of sardine and anchovy due to the combination of a shift in the distribution of the fish populations and competition with one of the most important commercial fisheries in South Africa.

“To compensate, gannets often resort to feeding on hake discards thrown off the back of trawl vessels.

“This is however a double-edged sword; they are vulnerable to becoming tangled in the fishing nets and, while the discards are enough to support the feeding requirements of adults, the lower fat content of hake is not sufficient to raise healthy chicks.”

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2022 will see BirdLife South Africa create awareness campaigns about the Cape Gannet through the production of an informative poster, the development of learning resources for schools that are free to download from the BirdLife South Africa website (www.birdlife.org.za), and articles in African Birdlife magazine. The Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust is the sponsor of Bird of the Year 2022.

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