Portovenere’s Mascots: seabirds nest on a fishing boat

In Nature, Video
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Two Northern Gannets have chosen the medieval sea village of Portovenere, in Liguria’s Gulf of Poets, as their nesting site. They created their first nest in 2013, and have returned ever since in what has been Italy’s only verified nesting site for this kind of seabirds of the Sulidae family.

The romantic couple has chosen a unique site for the nest: a small gozzo (local wooden fishing boat) docked near Palmaria Island. For the past 3 years, they have identified this as the most secure and calm place for bringing their offspring into the world.

Sule (Northern Gannets) nest in Portovenere, Liguria
Nelson & Roz – image from gazzettadellaspezia.it

The Northern Gannets – the official binomial name of which is Morus bassanus – have become the mascots of local boatmen, fishermen and miticoltori (mitili farmers). They have also added an extra touch to the already extraordinary nature of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Portovenere, Palmaria and Cinque Terre.

The birds have been named Nelson and Roz. Here is a video of them with newborn chick Tinetto in 2015.

Local inhabitants from the Gulf of Poets, as well as nature and birdwatching enthusiasts from all over Italy, were thrilled by the return of the Northern Gannets – or Sule as they are called in Italian. A Facebook group (Let’s Adopt the Sule of Portovenere) was created to inform the public and to help gather funds for protecting the nesting site.

And, as of 10 March 2016, a webcam was installed on the fishing boat to observe the seabirds in their temporary home in Portovenere. You can see the live streaming on Italy’s Birdcam Website.

These seabirds usually nest in large colonies (up to 60,000 pairs) in the North Atlantic on coasts influenced by the Gulf Stream, on cliffs overlooking the ocean or on small rocky islands. Adults are 81–110 cm (32–43 in) long and have a 165–180 cm (65–71 in) wingspan. They are spectacular high-speed divers. Their distinguishing feature is the light-blue color of their eyes, surrounded by bare black skin, which gives the birds their characteristic facial expression.

Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus) in Portovenere, Liguria
Nelson, Roz & Tinetto. Photo by Ercole Buoso.

Northern Gannets were first recorded in Italy in June 1993, when an individual was seen for several days in the village of Le Grazie (1 km away from Portovenere). The first proper nesting attempts were recorded in Portovenere in 2011 and 2012, but both were unsuccessful. For more scientific information about this story, read the article “First breeding records of Northern Gannet Morus bassanus in Italy” by CISO (Italian Center of Ornithological Studies).

Do you want to e-meet Portovenere’s seabirds, Nelson and Roz?

If you are lucky, you can catch a glimpse of them on live cam while they are in their boat-nest. Last year they became parents of Tinetto. How will it go this year? Stay tuned for updates!

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