Double Crested Cormorant: Profile, Traits, Facts, Range, Size

double crested cormorant

The double-crested cormorant, scientifically known as Phalacrocorax auritus, stands as a captivating member of the cormorant family, a group of seabirds renowned for their distinctive characteristics and behaviors. This avian species, characterized by its sleek black plumage and notable double crests atop its head during the breeding season, holds a significant place in marine ecosystems. With a wingspan stretching gracefully, these birds exhibit a remarkable agility in flight, effortlessly gliding over coastal waters in search of prey. In this article, we are going to discuss of double-crested cormorant, or double-breasted cormorant call, scientific name, facts, diet, habitat, flying, UK, range, size, etc.

Double Crested Cormorant: Profile, Traits, Facts, Range, Size

Belonging to the cormorant family, Phalacrocorax auritus shares common traits with its avian relatives while also possessing unique features that set it apart. These birds are adept divers, plunging beneath the surface with remarkable precision to hunt for fish, their primary source of sustenance. Their streamlined bodies and powerful webbed feet aid in swift underwater navigation, enabling them to pursue their prey with remarkable efficiency.

Scientific Classification and Taxonomy

In the realm of scientific classification, the double-crested cormorant finds its place under the genus Phalacrocorax, a taxonomic grouping that encompasses various species of cormorants worldwide. The species epithet, auritus, highlights specific characteristics of this bird, potentially derived from Latin roots denoting ‘eared’ or ‘having ears,’ possibly referencing the distinctive crests adorning its head during certain times of the year. Such taxonomic nomenclature not only serves to categorize this avian species but also provides insights into its evolutionary lineage and biological characteristics.

Habitat and Distribution

These seabirds inhabit a diverse range of aquatic environments, including coastal regions, inland water bodies, and estuaries, where they thrive amidst rich biodiversity. From the shores of North America to distant coastal regions, the double-crested cormorant’s presence spans a vast geographical range. Their adaptability to various habitats underscores their resilience as a species, as they navigate different ecosystems with ease, demonstrating their role as versatile predators within marine food webs.

Behavioral Patterns and Social Dynamics

Within their ecological niche, double-crested cormorants exhibit intriguing behavioral patterns and social dynamics. From communal roosting sites to cooperative hunting strategies, these birds engage in complex interactions that shape their collective behavior. During breeding seasons, elaborate courtship displays and nesting rituals further illuminate the intricacies of their social structure, offering glimpses into the evolutionary adaptations that have molded their reproductive strategies over time.

Habitat and Distribution

The habitat of the double-crested cormorant encompasses a diverse range of ecosystems, including riverbanks, lakeshores, coastal regions, and even extending to the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to the southern reaches of Florida and Mexico. This widespread distribution throughout North America makes it a ubiquitous sight in various aquatic environments. Whether nestled along the serene banks of a river or perched on rocky outcrops by the coast, these birds find their niche amidst the waterscapes of the continent.

Physical Characteristics

Measuring between 70 to 90 centimeters (28 to 35 inches) in length, the Phalacrocorax auritus presents a striking visage with its all-black plumage punctuated by a small, distinctive double crest of black and white feathers during the breeding season. Its facial features are adorned with a patch of orange-yellow skin, adding a splash of color to its otherwise dark appearance. This avian species exhibits subtle variations across its range, with five distinct subspecies identified based on regional differences.

Feeding Behavior and Hunting Techniques

The double-crested cormorant sustains itself primarily through piscivory, feasting on fish found abundantly in the aquatic habitats it frequents. Utilizing its adept swimming and diving skills, it hunts its prey with precision beneath the water’s surface. However, unlike many other aquatic birds, the feathers of the cormorant lack waterproofing, necessitating a unique post-dive ritual of drying out its plumage. This distinctive characteristic sets it apart within the avian realm and underscores its reliance on both water and air for survival.

Description of the Double-crested Cormorant

The double-crested cormorant, also known as the double-breasted cormorant, cuts a striking figure with its gangly, prehistoric appearance. Its sturdy frame, reminiscent of ancient avian forms, boasts heavy bones and matte-black plumage contrasted by patches of yellow-orange skin adorning its facial features. This unique combination lends it an air of primal elegance, evoking images of a bygone era.

Appearance and Habitat

Resembling a curious amalgamation of a loon and a goose, this avian species shares lineage with esteemed relatives such as the frigate bird and the booby. Its presence is frequently noted near both fresh and saltwater bodies throughout North America, often observed perched on docks, rocky outcrops, or channel markers, engaged in the distinctive practice of drying its outstretched wings. These aerial sentinels are masters of their aquatic domain, effortlessly diving beneath the water’s surface in pursuit of small fish.

Physical Characteristics and Measurements

Characterized by a robust physique, elongated neck, moderate tail, webbed feet, and a hooked bill of medium proportions, the double-crested cormorant embodies the quintessential traits of a large waterbird. With a body length ranging from 70 to 90 centimeters (28 to 35 inches) and an impressive wingspan spanning between 114 to 123 centimeters (45 to 48 inches), these birds command attention with their imposing presence. Weighing between 1.2 to 2.5 kilograms (2.6 to 5.5 pounds), they exude an aura of strength and resilience.

Plumage and Sexual Dimorphism

The plumage of the double-crested cormorant is characterized by its dark hue, providing effective camouflage in its aquatic habitat. Accentuating its somber attire are patches of exposed skin above the eyes, known as supra-loreal skin, and beneath the throat, known as gular skin, which range in color from yellow to vibrant orange. Remarkably, both males and females exhibit identical plumage and lack sexual dimorphism, making visual distinctions between genders challenging for observers.

Breeding Plumage and Physical Features

During the breeding season, adult double-crested cormorants undergo a striking transformation in their plumage, with their overall appearance predominantly black, complemented by dark grayish tones along the back and coverts, especially towards the central regions. One of the hallmark features of breeding adults is the presence of nuptial crests, distinguished by their white, black, or mixed coloration, positioned elegantly just above the eyes. Adding a vibrant touch to their facial profile, the bare skin surrounding the eyes takes on a vivid orange hue, serving as a visual beacon of their breeding readiness.

Seasonal Variation and Identifying Characteristics

In contrast, non-breeding adults exhibit a more subdued appearance, lacking the ornate crests seen during the breeding season. The skin around their facial region tends to adopt a yellowish tint, providing a subtle distinction from their breeding counterparts. Additionally, the bill of the adult cormorant remains dark-colored throughout the year, contributing to its sleek and streamlined appearance.

Comparison with Great Cormorant

The double-crested cormorant bears a striking resemblance to its larger counterpart, the great cormorant, which maintains a more restricted distribution in North America, primarily inhabiting the Canadian maritime provinces. However, keen observers can differentiate between the two species based on subtle differences in appearance. Notably, the double-crested cormorant distinguishes itself with its more pronounced yellow throat and bill, setting it apart from its great cormorant counterpart. These nuanced variations serve as valuable identifiers for enthusiasts and researchers alike, aiding in accurate species classification and ecological studies.

Plumage Variation in Juvenile Double-crested Cormorants

Juvenile double-crested cormorants exhibit a distinct plumage characterized by darker shades of grey or brownish tones. Their underparts present a lighter contrast compared to the back, with a pale throat and breast gradually transitioning to a darker hue towards the abdomen. As these young birds mature, their plumage undergoes a gradual darkening process, eventually resembling the iconic matte-black appearance of the adult cormorants.

Development of Bill Coloration

A notable feature of juvenile double-crested cormorants is the predominantly orange or yellowish coloration of their bills. This vibrant hue adds a splash of brightness to their overall appearance and serves as a distinguishing characteristic during their early stages of life.

Distribution and Breeding Range

Double-crested cormorants boast an expansive distribution across North America, with breeding populations established regionally along all coasts and extensively throughout various habitats. From the coastal reaches of Florida to the heart of the continent and along prominent waterways such as the St. Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes, these birds have carved out a niche in diverse environments. Additionally, they extend their breeding territories into Mexico, the Bahamas, Belize, and Cuba, showcasing their adaptability to a range of geographic conditions.

Wintering Habits and Habitat Preference

During the winter months, double-crested cormorants maintain a widespread presence along coastal regions, including the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico and the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Belize to North Carolina. Moreover, they inhabit inland areas with ice-free conditions, congregating along lakeshores and large rivers. Their choice of habitat varies, encompassing a spectrum of marine and aquatic inland environments. These birds exhibit a preference for locations with abundant water resources for feeding, coupled with nearby perches such as rocks, sandbars, trees, pilings, shipwrecks, wires, or docks. These strategic resting spots allow them to bask in the sun and dry out their plumage during the day, essential for maintaining their optimal condition for diving and fishing activities.

Swimming and Diving Behavior

The double-crested cormorant exhibits a distinctive swimming style, navigating the water’s surface with a low profile, often revealing only its neck and head above the surface. When hunting for prey, it employs its webbed feet for propulsion, gracefully diving from the water’s surface to pursue its aquatic quarry. Impressively, this avian diver can descend to depths ranging from 1.5 to 7.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches to 24 feet 7 inches), remaining submerged for durations spanning 30 to 70 seconds, showcasing its remarkable underwater agility and adaptability.

Post-Dive Rituals

Upon resurfacing, the double-crested cormorant engages in an intriguing behavior, spending extended periods standing with its wings outstretched. This peculiar posture serves a crucial purpose, allowing the bird to dry its feathers thoroughly. Unlike many avian species, the feathers of the cormorant are not fully waterproofed, necessitating this diligent drying process to maintain buoyancy and insulation against the water’s chill. This meticulous attention to plumage care underscores the bird’s mastery of its aquatic lifestyle.

Flight Characteristics

In flight, the double-crested cormorant displays a distinctive aerial demeanor, gliding low over the water’s surface with its bill subtly tilted upward. This characteristic flight pattern adds to its allure, enhancing its sleek and streamlined silhouette against the backdrop of the rippling waves below. Particularly noteworthy is the bird’s departure from its nesting colony, where individuals often depart in elongated single-file formations, creating a mesmerizing spectacle as they embark on their airborne journeys. Such synchronized movements reflect the communal nature of these avian gatherings and highlight the cohesive social dynamics within the cormorant community.

Diurnal Behavior and Social Dynamics

Double-crested cormorants are active during the day, making them diurnal birds that engage in various communal activities. They exhibit highly gregarious behavior, forming both large and small groups on their breeding grounds and congregating in vast flocks during the winter months for feeding. Breeding colonies are particularly noteworthy, with these birds nesting together in densely populated colonies, showcasing their preference for communal living. During migration, they undertake their journeys in large groups, emphasizing their collective movement patterns.

Feeding Habits and Diving Behavior

Feeding primarily during daylight hours, double-crested cormorants rely on their adept diving skills to procure sustenance from the depths below. With dives lasting between 30 to 70 seconds and depths ranging from 1.5 to 7.5 meters (4 feet 11 inches to 24 feet 7 inches), they demonstrate remarkable proficiency in capturing prey beneath the water’s surface. Post-dive, these birds engage in an extended period of wing-stretching, allowing their feathers to dry thoroughly in the sunlight, as their plumage lacks complete waterproofing.

Double Crested Cormorant: Profile, Traits, Facts, Range, Size

Swimming and Flight Patterns

Navigating the waterways with ease, double-crested cormorants adopt a low-swimming posture, often revealing only their head and neck above the waterline as they glide effortlessly along. Utilizing their feet for propulsion, they execute seamless dives from the water’s surface, embodying the grace and efficiency of avian aquatic predators. In flight, these birds maintain a low altitude over the water, with their bills slightly tilted upward, a distinctive characteristic that accentuates their streamlined aerial presence. Departures from nesting colonies are orchestrated in elongated single-file formations, further highlighting the synchronized movements and cohesive nature of these avian communities.

Communication and Social Behavior

Double-crested cormorants employ a variety of bodily displays and vocalizations to communicate with one another, utilizing their limited repertoire of calls for specific social situations. While they can be vocal on occasion, these birds are typically silent, relying more on visual cues and body language to convey messages within their social groups.

Dietary Preferences

The double-crested cormorant boasts a diverse diet sourced from the bounty of the sea, freshwater lakes, and rivers. Like its counterparts within the cormorant family, this species relies on diving to locate and capture its prey. While fish constitute the primary component of its diet, the double-crested cormorant occasionally supplements its meals with amphibians and crustaceans found in its aquatic habitats.

Feeding Techniques

Equipped with formidable diving abilities, double-crested cormorants plunge beneath the water’s surface in pursuit of their piscine prey. Smaller fish may be consumed underwater, but larger specimens are typically brought to the surface before consumption, facilitating easier handling and digestion. This strategic approach to feeding underscores the bird’s adaptability and resourcefulness in securing nourishment from its watery environment.

Agricultural Challenges

Despite their ecological significance, double-crested cormorants are often viewed as pests by aquaculturists due to their voracious predation on fish ponds. Their presence can result in significant financial losses for farmers, amounting to thousands of dollars in damages. This conflict highlights the delicate balance between conservation efforts and economic interests, underscoring the need for sustainable management practices to mitigate human-wildlife conflicts.

Pellet Regurgitation and Dietary Analysis

Similar to other avian species, cormorants regurgitate pellets containing undigested remnants of their meals, such as bones and other indigestible components. These pellets serve as valuable indicators of the bird’s dietary preferences and feeding habits, providing insights for biologists and researchers. Through careful dissection and analysis of these pellets, scientists can unravel the dietary patterns of double-crested cormorants, shedding light on their ecological roles within their respective ecosystems.

Population Status and Threats

Vulnerabilities to Environmental Hazards

Double-crested cormorants face numerous threats to their population viability, including pesticide poisoning and exposure to contaminants such as oil spills and industrial waste. These pollutants can accumulate in their aquatic habitats, posing health risks to the birds and disrupting their reproductive and foraging behaviors.

Human-induced Risks

Human activities also pose significant risks to double-crested cormorants, with individuals often becoming inadvertently ensnared in fishing gear such as hooks, trawls, gill-nets, and lobster traps. Additionally, disturbances during nesting periods can have devastating consequences, as adults may abandon their nests when startled, leaving vulnerable chicks and eggs exposed to predation and environmental stressors.

Nesting Vulnerabilities

Nesting disturbances further exacerbate the vulnerability of double-crested cormorant populations, as adults may desert their nests when faced with disruptions, leaving their offspring at the mercy of predators and environmental elements. Without parental protection, chicks and eggs are susceptible to predation by gulls and other opportunistic predators, as well as the risk of overheating in the sun.

Population Estimates

Total Population Size

According to data from the What Bird resource, the global population of the double-crested cormorant ranges from 1,100,000 to 2,200,000 individuals, indicating a widespread distribution across its range.

Continental Breeding Population

The All About Birds resource reports a substantial continental breeding population of over 740,000 breeding birds, highlighting the species’ significance within North American ecosystems.

Conservation Status

Despite facing various threats and challenges, double-crested cormorants are currently classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List. This designation reflects the species’ relatively stable population trends and widespread distribution. However, ongoing conservation efforts are essential to mitigate the impacts of anthropogenic activities and ensure the long-term survival of these iconic aquatic birds.

Breeding Behavior of Double-crested Cormorants

Monogamous Mating:

  • Double-crested cormorants exhibit monogamous mating behavior, with males and females mating exclusively with one partner each breeding season.

Colonial Nesting Sites:

  • Breeding colonies of double-crested cormorants can consist of up to three thousand pairs. Males choose a nesting site and perform elaborate courtship displays, including “wing-waving shows” to attract females, showcasing their brightly-colored skin on the head and neck.

Courtship Rituals:

Nest Construction and Incubation:

  • Breeding typically occurs from April to August, with a peak from May to July. A mated pair collaborates to repair an existing nest or build a new one on the ground or in trees. They lay 1 to 7 pale bluish-white chalky eggs, usually around 4.

Incubation and Chick Rearing:

  • Both parents take turns incubating the eggs, which hatch one after the other within 25 to 28 days. Chicks are altricial at birth and are cared for by both parents. They begin leaving the nest at three to four weeks of age, can fly for about six weeks, and start diving at six to seven weeks.

Independence and Breeding Age:

  • Chicks become fully independent at around 10 weeks old and typically begin breeding when they reach two years of age.

Nesting Habitat and Vocalizations:

  • Breeding occurs in coastal areas, near inland rivers, lakes, and suitable islands. Cormorants construct stick nests in trees, on cliff edges, or on the ground. They are gregarious birds found in colonies, often alongside other aquatic birds, and are known for their deep, guttural grunt calls.

Conservation and Population Trends

Once imperiled by the widespread use of DDT, the population of the double-crested cormorant has experienced a notable resurgence in recent years. Conservation efforts and regulatory measures have played a crucial role in mitigating the threats to its existence, allowing for a marked increase in its numbers across its range. This success story stands as a testament to the resilience of nature when met with concerted conservation actions and serves as a beacon of hope for the continued preservation of our natural heritage. Bird accessories on Amazon

Conservation Status and Human Interaction

Despite their resilience in the face of natural challenges, double-crested cormorants face significant threats stemming from human activities. Encounters with fishing gear, habitat degradation, and human disturbance pose ongoing risks to their populations, prompting conservation efforts aimed at safeguarding their welfare. Through collaborative initiatives and scientific research, conservationists strive to mitigate these threats and ensure the long-term survival of this captivating seabird species, recognizing its ecological importance and intrinsic value within marine ecosystems.

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