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Great Cormorant

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Recently a young, coastal, avian visitor strayed inland — the Great Cormorant, largest of all six species of cormorants in North America. It has the widest range of all the cormorants, breeding in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia, as well as North America. Typically Great Cormorants overwinter along the eastern U.S. and Canadian coasts (and breed from Maine north to western Greenland), but this juvenile bird somehow ended up in central Vermont. It is often confused with its close relative, the Double-crested Cormorant, but it is considerably larger, has a heavier bill and there are subtle plumage differences.  In China (mostly for tourism these days) they actually capitalize on the Great Cormorant’s ability to catch large fish by using it to catch fish commercially.  A snare of some sort is tied around the bottom of the cormorant’s neck, allowing it to eat small fish that it catches, but preventing it from swallowing any large fish.  After the cormorant catches a sizeable fish, it is brought back to the boat and spits up the fish that is in its throat.

6 responses

  1. Grady

    I’m told that Great Cormorants nest on an island, Black Horse, just a mile east out to sea from Isle au Haut, a larger island 15 or so miles south of Mount Desert Island. I can see it from my house on IaH and while I’ve never been to it, I can see evidence of nesting with my spotting scope; the entire west (leeward) side of the rock face is stained white. I’ve been told by a friend, an amateur naturalist, that bald eagles routinely help themselves to nestlings as a substitute for the dwindled bottom fish population which formerly satisfied the eagles’ needs. We also have Puffins and Gannets nearby on Seal Island to the south of Isle au Haut, which approaches the southern most limit of their range.

    November 28, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    • Thank you for sharing what must be an incredible spot! I am quite envious!

      November 28, 2012 at 2:29 pm

  2. Kathie Fiveash

    I also live on Isle au Haut, and am sad to report that the fellow who monitors great cormorants, John Drury from nearby Northhaven, says that the great cormorant nesting colony on Great Spoon, which Grady can also see from his house, has been pretty much eliminated by bald eagles. I think there may have been one or two nests this year, but I’m not sure. I don’t know anything about great cormorants on Black Horse Ledge – I hope Grady is right – but it is certainly possible that the stains he sees are from double crested cormorants, or herring or great black-backed gulls. John thinks that the presence of nesting great cormorants in Maine is about over because of the eagles.
    Bald eagles are a big problem for all the offshore nesting islands. Eagles flap out there to take eggs, nestlings, and adult birds. One of the jobs of the biologists on Seal Island is to deter eagles, but unfortunately, the great cormorants will often abandon nests when people try to scare the predatory eagles away – they are pretty shy birds, I guess. Coastal eagles eat seabirds much more than fish. If you look under their nests, the discarded bones on the ground are all bird bones. I have watched eagles kill eider ducks and great black-backed gulls from my deck. Any duck or gull that does not fly up when an eagle comes by is vulnerable . An eagle will swoop down over and over as a duck dives repeatedly to escape, often becoming exhausted and at last getting caught. When you see all the ducks and gulls suddenly fly up, it’s a good bet that an eagle is flying by.

    November 28, 2012 at 2:56 pm

  3. michelle saurette

    Hello MaryPlease check out my web I too am a naturalist and love to take pictures of the macro world. I am adding images as I build the page. Look under the eco art region of the site.You are welcome to use any of the photos to explain nature, just give me credit for the post. I live in the Monashee mountain range in BC and we are now in our winter season.Attached is lung wort and lichen and a leaf I am not sure of but it was highly variegated I believe you once explained the odd leaf from some trees do this. many blessings Michelle SauretteI love your posts thank you! I have share them with fellow nature lovers

    Date: Wed, 28 Nov 2012 13:13:47 +0000 To:

    November 28, 2012 at 4:46 pm

  4. Gwyn Loud

    This post about Great Cormorants sent me to our shelves of children’s books and to the classic The Story About Ping, written in 1933 by Marjorie Flack. It shows cormorants on the Yangtze River, just called “dark fishing birds….with shining rings around their necks, rings of metal made so tight, the birds could never swallow the big fish they were catching.” I’m a little sad to learn that this practice continues to please tourists, though I’m sure the birds are rewarded with bits of fish, as they were in the book.

    November 30, 2012 at 2:51 am

    • Ping was one of my childhood favorites, as well! I agree with you, that it’s unfortunate the practice continues. My hope is that they do take care of the birds, if for no other reason than their livelihood depends on them.

      November 30, 2012 at 3:17 am

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