Northern gannets share two familiar maxims to humans: “home sweet home” and “don’t step on me.”

They pack up on a plateau on Bonaventure Island like New York commuters crowd a subway, only they are noisier. They are devoted parents and could teach humans a thing or two about loyalty in marriage.

Year after year, gannet pairs arrive separately from the distant scattered waters of the Atlantic to reunite, mate again, and raise new chicks at the precise nesting spots they called home before heading south for the winter.

The island just off the Gaspe Peninsula of Quebec offers significant insights into northern gannets because they are easily accessible in large numbers, seem to ignore humans, and unlike many seabird species, they tolerate being studied and tagged.

RESUMES THE STUDY ON THE RESTORATION OF GRZZLY BEARS IN THE NORTH WASHINGTON FALLS

Their struggles to feed and reproduce in a hot climate are closely followed by scientists.

Some of the lessons learned here and from other colonies about gannet life:

Companions for Life: Gannets appear to be better than humans in monogamy, despite spending half a year apart, or perhaps because of it.

Northern gannets fly near Bonaventure Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence off the coast of Quebec on Canada’s Gaspe Peninsula on September 13, 2022.
(AP Photo / Carolyn Kaster)

Marine biologist David Pelletier, an expert on their nest behavior who teaches at Cegep de Rimouski, found that 69% remain “loyal”; in the sense that they reproduce with the same mate throughout their life; 22% are “divorced”, in the sense that they find new partners; 9% are widowers.

In contrast, about a third of Americans who have ever married have been divorced.

Yes, but: It’s all about the basics, not romance, scientists say, even if anyone really knows what’s in a gannet’s heart?

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“Gannets are mostly loyal to their territory, which explains why they are still quite loyal to their partner,” Pelletier said.

That primal need to reunite on the same exact piece of land comes with surprising hostility towards neighborhood intruders. The birds do not want the next booby to enter their territory, even if they are barely residing a wingspan away. That’s when things get ugly. They nibble, screech, and can fight to exhaustion, sometimes to death.

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