Battles on Bass Rock

By mid-April almost all the gannets have returned to Bass Rock and tensions are high. Fights are common with birds on the edge of the colony trying to establish themselves on a territory.  In between catching and GPS tagging we would watch these fights unfold in awe of the brutal blows they inflict one another. The dogged determination they show in trying to win is unbelievable. Just when you think one bird is down and out, bam, it strikes back with even more purpose than before.

The photos below document one such fight. The bird with the colour ring is B116, a young bird we ringed in 2015 when it was in it’s 4th year. These two must have been fighting for at least 20 minutes, locked beak to beak, jabbing at each other, grabbing the backs of each others necks only pausing for a second or two before resuming their intense power struggle. If you look closely at the pictures you’ll see how B116 causes its opponents bill to splinter. At one point the neighbouring bird got involved but soon turned away and left them to it!

Eventually B116 appeared to come out as the winner but not before blood was split.

During these fights the birds spread their wings widely which allows them to balance and prevent themselves being pushed backwards.

The ornithologist Brian Nelson describes perfectly in his book The Gannet, how the winner of such fights is “often not content with winning; he prevents his rival from disengaging, pursues him and renews the fight even when it could have ended.” It’s therefore not surprising that we see a fair number of gannets with battle wounds. However they are incredibly resilient, I  am just in awe of their robustness in the wake of such ferocious fights and what look to be quite severe injuries.




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