On his Labrador Expedition in 1833 Audubon was eager to visit “Great Gannet Rock,” near the Magdalen Islands north of Nova Scotia in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. In this watercolor, JJA focused on the vulnerable but fully fledged juvenile, preening its molting feathers while eyeing the viewer. He measured its watchful father at forty and a half inches in length. The artist embedded the viewer of this evocative scene on the generic foreground rock to witness the birds’ struggle for existence from their own stark perch and to increase the immediacy of the scene. At the lower left with quick strokes of black ink, he suggested the blizzard of gray-white bodies that he had observed hovering over their nesting grounds.
Audubon wrote, “After a while I could distinctly see its top from the deck, and thought that it was still covered with snow several feet deep. As we approached it, I imagined that the atmosphere around was filled with flakes, but on my turning to the pilot, who smiled at my simplicity, I was assured that nothing was in sight but the Gannets and their island home. I rubbed my eyes, took up my glass, and saw that the strange dimness of the air before us was caused by the innumerable birds, whose white bodies and black-tipped pinions produced a blended tint of light-grey.” JJA and his companions, including his son John Woodhouse, witnessed over a hundred thousand Northern Gannets swarm the inaccessible colony, hordes nesting and legions in flight or spectacular dives. He also lamented that fishermen climbed the rock to slaughter the tame birds for cod bait.