The Cormorants are Coming!

Every year in late April to early May, seabirds known as double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritis) make their homes on and near Alberta lakes and rivers to breed and raise their young. So named because of the long, fine feathers that appear behind each eye in spring, they are one of approximately forty sub-species in the world.

The name cormorant is a contraction of two Latin words; corvus and marinus which when put together mean “sea raven”. With their penchant for fishing and their black colour it is easy to see why.

The double-crested cormorant is a large black bird with a long sinuous neck and a yellow-orange throat patch. They weigh between 1.2 and 2.5 kilos and are exceptional divers, some able to dive to depths of 45 meters using their powerful webbed feet and using their wings as rudders. Cormorants eat a wide variety of fish along with some crustaceans, amphibians and insects. Their long beak, with the tip of the bill shaped like a hook, is an excellent aid in catching prey.

A cormorant’s time is spent almost equally between fishing and resting. Some people believe that their oil glands are insufficient for waterproofing, and although these oil glands may help them be a better diver, it also means they must spend a large portion of time drying their wings. Observers will often find cormorants on top of tall trees of telephone poles with their wings outstretched to catch the drying rays of the sun.

Cormorants are colonial nesters whose guano has been known to kill the very trees they perch upon. At the very least, it will stain and discolour any rocks below. Cormorants are also known to create pellets of undigested bones and fish scales which they expel much the same as some species of owls.

If spring ever comes, we can expect to see double-crested cormorants soon after!

By Linda J. Schlegel, AIWC Volunteer

Resources and further reading:

21 responses to “The Cormorants are Coming!”

  1. Christine says:

    It’s May 5th, 2019. At about 11 am I looked back window to see to my surprise at least 22 of these Cormorant birds fishing and flooding on a man made lake just beyond the back yard. I had the bushnell binoculars to identify them with. I live in Winnipeg Manitoba on the south west side of the city. Well my boyfriend does and on weekends I love looking out on the water to see what bird species I will see next.

  2. editor says:

    That is so cool, thank you for sharing!

  3. Kayla says:

    How wonderful! I identified one in my neighbourhood “swampy Marsh” I used my vortex binoculars to identify, I could even see the iridescent colours reflecting off his long slender neck. Fascinating!

    This is a first sighting for me so I had to dig to find the correct name!

  4. editor says:

    That is so awesome, thank you for sharing!

  5. Wendy Adam says:

    a cormorant is watching all Dawgs games in August – sitting on the stadium lights. Oktoks Dawgs stadium. all by himself. thought they were more northern – surprised to see one here.

  6. editor says:

    That’s awesome! 🙂

  7. Arboura says:

    I think there is a cormorant who frequently sits on a light standard on westbound 16th Avenue, just after crossing Deerfoot in Calgary. I have seen him/her many evenings on my way home this summer.

  8. editor says:

    That’s awesome!

  9. Dolores Le Sergent says:

    August 30,2019 at around 1:30pm
    Saw a bird in my farm dugout, immediately said it looks like a cormorant; but not this far away from the sea, later saw another 20 miles away, returning home; it was still here; standing on the aeration float with wings spread wide.Didn’t know they came to south of Peace River. First ones I’ve seen here in thirty years.

  10. editor says:

    Wow, that’s great you’re seeing them this year!

  11. editor says:

    That’s awesome you’re seeing them this year!

  12. Arlene macswain says:

    Have 2 in high river in the past 3 weeks.

    Happy I found your page to identify them

  13. editor says:

    That’s great news, thank you for sharing! 🙂

  14. Kate Dougall says:

    We saw two sitting in a tall tree along the riverbank of Bow River in Fish Creek Park in Calgary. One was black and the other lighter grey. It was a bird I had never seen before so was quite excitIng. Thanks for helping to identify it!
    Wish I could share my photos!

  15. Lynn Morris says:

    September 5, 2019

    Thought I saw one in High River today, sitting atop a light post.

  16. Jeremy says:

    I am pretty sure one these fellows at Atim Creek, just west of Spruce Grove. Sitting on a log in the middle of an old beaver pond. Pretty amazing.

  17. editor says:

    That’s awesome!

  18. editor says:

    That’s awesome!

  19. gordon says:

    There is at least 1 still here in Vegreville at the Pysanka park beside the big pond, about 3 weeks ago l saw 4 at once in the same tree.

  20. Suzi says:

    I was walking along the east side of the bow river near quarry park in Calgary today and saw a comadant for my first time ever perched atop a tall tree. It was majestic, beautiful and awe inspiring.

  21. editor says:

    Very cool, thank you for sharing! 🙂

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