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A sea going bird only seen offshore from Dorset cliff tops

Photograph by: 
Hamish Murray

Does the gannet (Morus bassanus) actually occur in Dorset? Should it be on the Dorset list? It is very much a sea bird that never comes ashore here and so I suppose by that definition it is not. However, if you have at least one foot in Dorset and you look out to sea you will see gannets passing by from time to time and by that criteria then it counts! As many birders do sea watches from time to time the popular answer is a bird can be counted on the Dorset list if it is seen in the county or seen by someone whilst they are in the county. The nearest breeding colony of gannets to us here in Dorset is on Alderney in the Channel Islands and that is not far as the gannet flies! Most gannets seen off our coastline will be from this Alderney colony but it is possible, of course, some are from further afield as they do move some considerable distances outside of the breeding season.

The weekly reports chart shows that you can see gannets in pretty much every week of the year. There are small gaps from time to time but this may well be down to lack of reports rather than lack of birds. They certainly seem to be more frequent in winter but that is understandable if they are nesting in the Channel Islands they will be fishing to feed their young clower to home most of the time.

There are reports of gannets from various locations along the coast with by far the bulk coming from Durlston Country Park near Swanage. Whilst this will be partly down to this being a well watched area I suspect the stretch of sea between the Needles on the Isle of Wight and Durlston Head in Dorset presents good fishing opportunities for them.

If your Dorset list includes birds seen off shore then a trip to Durlston represents a good opportunity to add gannet to that list.



Common Name Gannet
Scientific Name Morus bassanus
Species Group Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants
Status Local
Interest Level
  • 01 - January
  • 02 - February
  • 03 - March
  • 04 - April
  • 05 - May
  • 06 - June
  • 07 - July
  • 08 - August
  • 09 - September
  • 10 - October
  • 11 - November
  • 12 - December
Look for

Large white birds with black wing tips flying out at sea

Identification Notes
  • Gannets cannot be seen on land in Dorset but are constantly seen passing by out at sea often diving in to the wter for fish
  • The nearest nesting colony is on Alderney in the Channel Islands and it is believed most of the birds we sea from the Dorset cliffs are from there
  • Unmistakable even from a distant with their sleek lines and white plumage with black wing tips
Primary Habitat
Preferred Environment
Look for
Additional Identification Notes
Similar Species

The records for this species have been organised into reports, charts, maps and photos. Click a pic below to see the detail:

Notebook Distribution Map Sites List Some Charts Some Photographs Recent Records Guidance Notes

To see related species click here: 

Birds Shearwaters Petrels Auks and Cormorants