The Double Crested Cormorant

 The Double Crested Cormorant

By Terri Estes

Have you ever noticed a thin, dark colored, long-necked bird that looks like a cross between a duck and a goose, diving into the ocean? You watch and wait, wondering how the heck a bird can stay under water so long. Was it my imagination? Did the bird get eaten by a shark? After what seems like an eternity, the bird suddenly appears on the surface of the water, several yards from where it first dove in. If you have witnessed this, chances are, that diving bird was a double crested cormorant.

These birds can stay underwater in pursuit of a fish for over two minutes! There are over 40 different types of cormorants in the world but only two in the NY region. The other species is the larger, great cormorant which is a much rarer sighting.

This is another migratory bird that I am always excited to see return to our area. They leave towards the end of October and winter in the southern states and the Caribbean, returning again in March and April.

From a distance, the cormorant is just a dark brown or black bird. Seen up close, you will notice orange coloring around the eyes and at the base of the bill. But the really cool thing about their appearance is their bright turquoise eyes. Adults have two crests of feathers behind their eyes, hence the name. These crests are sometimes hard to see.
This bird is at home in saltwater or freshwater.  Their diet consists of mainly fish, but they do eat crustaceans and other sea life. They are expert hunters underwater and propel themselves under the surface like little torpedoes chasing down fish. Double cresteds can dive to depth of 25 feet, but some species of cormorants can dive up to 150 feet. They are so efficient at fishing, that some villages in China and Japan have trained and used cormorants to fish for them for centuries.

Double crested cormorants spend most of their time either fishing or resting on a jetty, buoy, or rocky coastline. Unlike ducks and other water birds, their feathers are not very waterproof. When out of the water, they are often seen with their wings expanded and airing out to dry.

Hopefully you will be lucky enough to spot a cormorant diving into the water this season. If you do witness it, see if you can time how long they are able to stay submerged and report back to me!


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