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Tākapu, Australasian gannet

Tākapu (Australasian gannets) are seen soaring above the water at Snells Beach, perhaps most frequently during breeding season. There are colonies dotted around at Muriwai, on the west coast and throughout Hauraki Gulf at Horuhoru, Motu Karmarama, and Mahuki Island to name a few.

Apparently, some of the birds from Muriwai sometimes come to Kawau bay when the tide is unfavourable for fishing at Muriwai.

When watching these impressive birds soar, you may notice it swoop to just skim the top of the water before flying up and up again.

A short time later, at speeds up to 145 kph it plunges from heights up to 20 metres! Just before hitting the water the wings stretch backwards and then tākapu splash head-first into the water. It resurfaces a few seconds later swallowing its catch before rising from the water with ease and grace to hunt again.

How do gannets survive these repeated high-speed dives?

Tākapu have inflatable air sacks beneath the skin on their lower neck and breast, and they inflate these to take the shock of entry into the water. Much as humans created airbags in cars to absorb the impact in the event of a crash, this amazing bird had airbags many years before humans did.

As a New Zealander, the tākapu young like to take an OE. The four-month-young tākapu, having been fed and cared for by it's parents, will take its first flight. Without any previous flight experience or ever having fed itself, and with no adults, it flies 2,740 km or more across the Tasman to Australia.

Gannets for Cook's Christmas dinner

Did you know that on James Cook's first voyage to New Zealand, the crew of the Endeavour marked the occasion of Christmas by feeding on Goose Pye, only it was tākapu pie. Joseph Banks had shot tākapu and it was cooked as a substitute for the traditional British goose.

New Zealand is the best place to see tākapu with three mainland breeding colonies and 21 offshore colonies! To read more about them visit the New Zealand Birds Online.

The photos in this post were taken by Alan France.

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