gan·​net ˈga-nət How to pronounce gannet (audio)
plural gannets also gannet
: any of a genus (Morus of the family Sulidae, the gannet family) of large fish-eating seabirds that breed in colonies chiefly on offshore islands

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There are three oceanic bird species called gannet. They are found in the North Atlantic, where they are the largest seabirds, and in temperate seas around Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. The adults are mainly white with black-tipped wing feathers and a large, yellowish or buff-colored head, with black around the eyes. They have a tapered beak and pointed tail. They dive with half-closed wings to catch fish and squid. They waddle on land, but are expert fliers, spending most of their lives over water. They nest in dense colonies on cliffs. The largest species is the 40-in (100-cm) northern gannet.

Examples of gannet in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Boat rides to Little St. Simon Island give crews the chance to spot spoonbills and gannets. Lindsay Cohn, Parents, 13 May 2024 This year’s grand prize winner for the World Nature Photographer of the Year is Tracey Lund, for her fantastic shot of two gannets going after the same fish (seen above). Isaac Schultz / Gizmodo, Quartz, 11 Apr. 2024 Soaring birds–such as condors, eagles, hawks, albatrosses, gulls, storks and gannets–generally rely on large wingspans and slotted feathers at the wingtip to keep them in flight with little flapping. Scott Travers, Forbes, 28 Mar. 2024 Yet despite the stress on their bodies, gannets (like the kingfisher) manage the feat again and again without injury, especially concussions. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 24 Oct. 2023 Scientists have been studying this phenomenon for a very long time, including recent work on diving birds like gannets and kingfishers. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 6 Nov. 2023 Each summer, the island’s gannet population balloons to 22,000 as the birds arrive for breeding. Carlyn Kranking, Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Oct. 2023 The art of courtship by Rachel Bigsby From a boat, U.K. photographer Rachel Bigsby captured a pair of gannets in courtship at the Isle of Noss in Scotland. Carlyn Kranking, Smithsonian Magazine, 12 Oct. 2023 The severe southeast coast here is gorgeous in its craggy rawness — known as an ideal spot to glimpse egrets, herons, and gannets. Ross Kenneth Urken, Travel + Leisure, 14 July 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'gannet.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English ganate, gante, going back to Old English ganot, ganet "a seabird, probably Morus bassanus," going back to Germanic *ganuta- "gander" (whence Middle Dutch ghent "gander," Old High German ganazzo, ganzo), from *gan- (base of *gan-s- "goose") + *-uta-, suffix of animal names — more at goose entry 1

First Known Use

before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of gannet was before the 12th century

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Cite this Entry

“Gannet.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2024.

Kids Definition


gan·​net ˈgan-ət How to pronounce gannet (audio)
plural gannets also gannet
: any of several large fish-eating seabirds that breed chiefly on offshore islands

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