Phalacrocorax auritus

Quick Facts

  • solidly built black cormorant with an orange/yellow throat patch and very long neck
  • approximately 76–89 cm (30-35″ tall)
  • the largest and easiest to identify of the cormorants in the Pacific Northwest
  • feathers lack a lot of the typical oil, they soak up water like a sponge
  • after a dive the cormorant must ‘dry off’, with their wings stretched out from side to side drying themselves off like clothes on a clothesline
  • some records indicate that these birds can dive to depths of 70 m (210 ft)
  • In some parts of the world cormorants have been raised and trained to fish for their owners because of their skilled hunting abilities
  • clutch size for this species is 3–5 chalky, pale blue-green eggs in a well-made platform of sticks and seaweed,
  • the nest is a condominium-like structure placed in a tree or on a cliff or rocky island, nearly 1–1.5 m (3–5 ft high)

General Information Double Crested Cormorant are seen on a whale watching boat tour with Eagle Wing Tours in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada on Vancouver Island.

Cormorants have an amazing ability to achieve extreme depths beneath the water’s surface when foraging for food. Most waterfowl have a great deal of protection from the cold water thanks to plumage that contains oil which sheds the water across the surface of the feathers rather than soaking it up like a sponge. It is a combination of having dense bones, a muscular skeletal structure and the absorption of water, which allows the cormorant to increase body weight and reduce buoyancy. This enables them to be efficient hunters under water. Some records indicate that these birds can dive to depths of 210 feet (70 m). After a dive, the cormorant must ‘dry off’.  They can be observed standing on a rock or log with their wings stretched out from side to side drying themselves off like clothes on a clothesline in a summer breeze. In some parts of the world cormorants have been raised and trained to fish for their owners because of their skilled hunting abilities (areas in Asia).

Description

These are by far the largest and easiest to identify of the cormorants in the Pacific Northwest area. They are approximately 30–35 inches tall (76–89 cm). They are a solidly built black cormorant with an orange/yellow throat patch and very long neck. As the bird swims you may notice a long hooked bill that tilts upward. Adults have short white tufts of feathers over each eye during the breeding season. Young birds however, are browner, with a whitish or buffy looking breast, upper belly, and neck. In flight, the neck shows a slight crook or kink, which is not seen in the similar Brandt’s cormorant, or pelagic cormorant.

Habitat

The double-crested cormorant can be found near lakes, rivers, swamps, and in the coastal areas seen relaxing on islands and islets.

Nesting

The clutch size for this species is 3–5 chalky, pale blue-green eggs in a well-made platform of sticks and seaweed, (condominium-like structure) placed in a tree or on a cliff or rocky island. Sometimes these nests become mammoth structures of nearly 3–5 feet high (1–1.5m). On the west coast they primarily nest in very large colonies.

Range

They breed locally  from Alaska, Manitoba, and Newfoundland south to Mexico and Bahamas. They winter mainly on the coast, north to Alaska and to southern New England.

Voice

Deep guttural grunts.

Discussion

In the east, except in the Northeast in winter and along the Gulf Coast, the double-crested is the only cormorant likely to be seen. In the west, it is the only cormorant that nests commonly in the interior. Along the Pacific coast, where it nests on cliffs, it is usually outnumbered by Brandt’s cormorants. It takes some practice to pick out the crook in the neck of a double-crested, but once this field mark is spotted, distinguishing the two is easy. Double-crested cormorants often take shortcuts over land, whereas both Brandt’s and the smaller pelagic nearly always fly over water (avoiding land masses). Despite years of persecution by fishermen who viewed it as a competitor, the species is currently increasing in number and expanding its range. Like geese, cormorants migrate in large arcs or in wedge-shaped flocks, but are silent when flying. The word “cormorant” is derived, through French, from the Latin corvus marinus, or “sea crow.”