The Double-Crested Cormorant, A Fine Fisherman
The Double-Crested Cormorant or shag, is the most widespread cormorant in North America. From a distance, it looks black, but in certain lighting, could appear to have a greenish sheen, so don’t let that common looking bird fool you. It really is a good-looking migratory bird, at a 32-inch length, weighing it at 4 pounds, give or take.
During breeding season, here’s when the crests come into play. It shows two tiny tufts of feathers, which are black in the eastern birds, but larger and mostly white in the western birds.
Surprisingly, being a water bird, its wings are not completely waterproof, so upon leaving the water, the bird often perches on exposed items like driftwood, broken tree trunks, etc. with its wings held out to catch the rays of the sun and dry its feathers. Really. There’s no elaborate ritual or reasoning on it than this. It truly is that simple. The bill is long, strong, and hooked, so don’t try to hand feed this bird, as a rehabilitator. You could come away with more than you bargained for.
This cormorant swims very low in the water with its bill tilted slightly upward. In flight it has a very distinct crook in its neck. The immature birds are brown with a white face, breast and foreneck.
Anything Double-Crested Cormorant!
The only sounds that I have ever heard come out of this bird are croaks and grunts. However, it is very gregarious. It is an excellent fish diver, and also enjoys crustaceans and amphibians. When in pursuit of their prey, they will use their wings to steer and brake, and bring their catch to the water’s surface before they swallow it. Like a penguin and other related species, it propels itself with its feet. It can do a very commendable half minute to minute dive and stay between 5-25 feet. The feet are large and webbed, and the legs are short, making this bird so competitive as a diver. If you think that you can outswim one, guess again.
Both sexes incubate, and the young will be independent at two months to 9 weeks. They will generally leave the nest at 3-4 weeks, but they’ll return to be fed by both parents. There is one brood each year.
Sadly, these wonderful birds are killed by fishermen, who believe that these birds are competition. DDT hit them hard in the 60’s and 70’s, which naturally caused reproductive failure, like everything else.
They will nest in trees made of sticks and similar, lined with grass and leafy twigs. They also favor rocks cushioned with seaweed, and trash gathered at the edge of the water. They will even nest as close to water as they can, if all the choice real estate has been taken. The nest builder is the female, and two eggs are lain.
This bit of information won’t make you an authority on the D-C Cormorant, but it will certainly give you something to discuss at times when the conversation lags. Who knows, it might answer one of those Jeopardy questions for you when you’re on the show.