GREAT CORMORANT (Phalocrocorax carbo)
DESCRIPTION: The Great Cormorant is a largely black bird with a light yellow bill and black short legs, and webbed feet. There is a bare yellow and white patch of skin at the base of the bill and around the eye. The bill upper mandible ends with a small hook. Breeding adults have white patches on each side of the head and on the thighs. The size of this cormorant varies according to its location. The largest individuals were found in Prince Edward Island, Canada, at a length of around one meter (39 inches).
NAME: The English name ‘Cormorant’ comes from French patois ‘Cor marin’ due to its similar appearance to the Crow (in size and color) (Choate). The Latin genus name ‘Phalacrocorax’ also refers to a crow. As for the Latin species name ‘carbo’, it means ‘charcoal’, in reference to the plumage color. In New Zealand this bird is called a ‘Black Shag’.
HABITAT: Inland ponds, lakes, also along the coasts.
DIET: Fish caught while diving at depths reaching 5 m (16 feet).
NESTING: Cormorants nest in colonies on trees or cliffs. The nest is a large structure of sticks. An average of four light blue eggs are laid, which are incubated by both parents. They will also both feed the chicks. After a few years, the colony trees die from bird guano buildup, and the birds need to find another location.
DISTRIBUTION: The great cormorant has a widespread range around the world except in the New World, where it is only found along the northern half of the east coast of North America. The populations in the north parts of the northern hemisphere migrate south for the winter.
CONSERVATION: Because of its diet this species was considered a competitor by fishermen in decades past, and hunted near extinction. With protection measures its population rebounded, but this increase also brought back the issues with fishermen. In addition, these birds are vulnerable to being caught in fishing gear. In spite of the above the great cormorant is not currently at risk.
CORMORANT FISHING : Because those birds are good at catching fish, they have been used by fishermen in Japan for more than 1,300 years to help them catch fish. To do this, a line is tied around the throat of the birds to prevent them from swallowing their catch. Fishing boats bring several of the birds in a given expedition, starting at dark on a river. This tradition is still alive today, mostly for tourists though, from Japan and elsewhere.
NOTES: As with other cormorants, the great cormorant will dry its wings for a few minutes after a dive by spreading them while standing upright. One explanation would be that when they dive, air escapes from their feathers to allow better swimming under water. They also swim using their feet rather than their wings. Some birds have even been observed swallowing small pebbles as extra weight before diving.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Japanese Cormorant – one way of distinguishing between the two species is with their habitat. The Japanese cormorant fishes along the sea coasts, whereas the great cormorant is found inland on ponds, lakes, etc.
This video shows the same bird as above in Japan, in breeding plumage:
And this video shows another great cormorant in Japan, diving on a pond at the Tokyo Imperial Gardens: