Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Northern Gannet - Morus bassanus
SULIDAE Members:
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General Comments Birders seldom fail to thrill at seeing Gannets plunge-diving from dozens of feet into the ocean. This is a common sight along the North Carolina coast, as this northern Atlantic breeder winters in large numbers along our coast, where it is practically impossible to miss the species on a winter day. In fact, often the highest CBC total for a given season will be tallied from a count along the Outer Banks. The species occasionally can be seen well offshore (out of sight of land), as well as from ferries in Pamlico Sound, though the bulk of the birds stay within a mile of shore just off the coast. It is casual far inland in the state, but only one record seems to be well documented.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident. Common to abundant along the coast, Nov thru Apr; reasonably common in Oct and May; scattered records Jun to Sep. Small numbers are regular in Pamlico Sound, mainly in winter, but it is scarce elsewhere in tidewater areas. The species is less common farther southward, but it is still common along the southern coast; along the Outer Banks, it is typically very common to abundant. Peak counts: 20,000, Bodie-Pea Is. CBC, 28 Dec 2001; 16,173, counted from Cape Hatteras Point, 12 Feb 2021; 13,188, Southport CBC, 1 Jan 2017; 10,650, Bodie-Pea Is. CBC, 28 Dec 1991. A count of 100 in Jarrett Bay (Carteret) on 9 Mar 2013 was notable away from the ocean. No far inland reports.
Piedmont Accidental. Three reports, but only one with photographs. One sick or injured sub-adult at Jordan Lake, 25-26 Aug 1984 [Chat 49:49 link]; and one immature at Falls Lake (Wake/Durham), 30 Nov - 1 Dec 1991 [Chat 56:83 link]. Neither report has been reviewed by the NC BRC. As Gannets are very rare along our coast in August, much less inland, the 1984 report should be considered unconfirmed. Certainly correct was an adult photographed resting in a residential driveway in East Bend (Yadkin) on the out-of-season date of 17 Jun 2019 [Chat 83:115 link]; however, the report has yet to be reviewed by the NCBRC. Thankfully, the photograph of this outlandish record -- or should we say "landish"? -- is on the Carolina Bird Club Photo Gallery.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips This species is a gimme along the northern half of the coast in the colder months. Hundreds can often be seen from shore, especially from the Outer Banks; North Carolina is the center of the wintering range.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-15], LeGrand[2021-05-17], LeGrand[2019-11-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.