Double-crested Cormorant:Migration Monday

Happy Migration Monday! For this week I chose to write about the Double-crested Cormorant. Seeing them at my local lakes is one of the things I look forward to at the beginning of Spring. In yesterday’s post I wrote about them finally arriving at Haddon Lake, but they were not the first Cormorants I saw this Spring. My “first-of year” (or FOY in birder terms) was actually at Strawbridge Lake on Saturday. It was exactly where I though it would be: on the branch that sticks out of the water at the end of the park. What a comforting sight to see a familiar friend :-).

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Double-crested Cormorant enjoys its favorite perch at Strawbridge Lake (Image by BirdNation)

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Description:

Double-crested Cormorants are the most common of the six species of North American Cormorants. These large waterbirds have heavy brownish-black bodies, long necks, and small heads. Their gray bills are long and hooked at the end. Breeding adults have a yellowish-orange throat patch. Breeding adults will develop the double crest, which they are named for, in either black or white stringy feathers. The crests are located on the bare skin above the eyes. Immature Cormorants lack the crests, are browner, are paler around the neck/breast, and the skin on their faces is more yellow than orange.

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Breeding Double-crested Cormorant (Image by Joe Furhman/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Medium-distance migrant. Breeds in Northern United States and Alaska to Manitoba, Migrates throughout the Midwest and Northeast, Winters along the coasts and Southeast, Permanent resident in Florida and Pacific Coast

Habitat:

You can find Double-crested Cormorants in almost any aquatic habitat: coasts, lakes, rivers, swamps, and bays

Food:

Mainly fish, but also crustaceans, amphibians, and insects. They dive and use their strong webbed feet to propel themselves underwater to catch food.

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Feeding on fish (Image via birdinginformation.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

Double-crested Cormorants will start breeding around the age of 3 and may have 1-2 broods per year. Males courtship displays include swimming in a zig-zag, splashing, crouching/calling while vibrating wings, and diving to retrieve weeds. They breed in colonies. Females will construct the nest with materials that the males brings to her. Males choose the nest site, which may be in trees or on rocky ground. The nest is made of small sticks, flotsam, seaweed, and lined with grass. The female will lay between 1-7 (usually 3-4) eggs and incubate them for 25-33 days. Chicks will leave the nest to wander around the colony at 3-4 weeks but will return to the nest to be fed by both parents. The chicks will congregate in small groups call creches. They will start to fly at around 5-6 weeks and be independent after 9-10 weeks.

Sounds:

Usually nonvocal except when breeding. During breeding they will make deep, guttural calls that sound similar to an oinking pig.

Fun Facts:

  • Although Double-crested Cormorants hunt underwater for food, their feathers are not waterproof. They don’t have as much preen oil as other birds, so as a result they need to spend a lot of time resting to dry their feathers. To do this they will find a perch that is exposed to the sun and spread their wings to dry. Although a diver having non-waterproof feathers seems like a problem, wet feathers actually help them be more agile underwater.
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A Cormorant drying its feathers after swimming (Image by Peter Wallack via wikimedia commons)
  • Double-crested Cormorants sit very low in the water. While swimming, you will usually only see the bill and the head pointing upwards.
  • They can fly up to 40 miles away from their nesting grounds to find food.
  • If you find a cormorant on an inland body of water then it is most likely a Double-crested Cormorant. The other five North American cormorant species (Great, Pelagic, Neotropic, Brandt’s, and Red-faced) are usually only found on coastlines.
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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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