Gannets (closely related to boobies) are big birds that can live for as long as thirty years. They’re distinguished by their gold-and-black head markings and a complete lack of fear of humans. The birds at Cape Kidnappers start nesting in June, laying their eggs from early July through to October, with the chicks hatching six weeks later. Once fledged, at around fifteen weeks, the young gannets embark on their inaugural flight, a marathon, as-yet-unexplained 3000km journey to Australia, where they spend a couple of years before flying back to spend the rest of their life in New Zealand, returning to their place of birth to breed each year. It is thought that the birds mate for life, using the same or an adjacent nest each year, but recent observation indicates that adultery does occur – usually because of mistaken identity.
During the breeding season (July–mid-Oct), the cape is closed to the public. One of the three colonies, the Saddle, is reserved for scientific study and allows no public access. The remaining two colonies, Plateau and Black Reef, are open outside the breeding season, and at the former you will get within a metre or so of the birds. When pairs reunite, after a fishing- or nest-material-gathering trip, you can get close enough to hear their beaks clack together in greeting.