Hey guys, welcome back! Today we talk about a cool, if not somewhat prehistoric-looking, waterbird; the Double-crested Cormorant! The most widespread of the number of cormorant species found in North America, the Double-crested Cormorant is all over the place in New York City, where I first saw one. I was riding my bike up the East River in Brooklyn, and stopped on one of the piers to admire the view of Manhattan across the river. This was years before I started working in Central Park and started birding. I had no idea what these birds were. I actually thought they were loons. They do have a similar-ish silhouette in the water. In fact, for a few years I believed them to be loons. It wasn’t until I saw a sign along the water (I think at Gantry Plaza Park in Queens, but I could be wrong) about them and discovered they were Double-crested Cormorants!
Though they do kind of look like a duck, or a loon if you squint and don’t really know better (like I didn’t all those years ago), they are actually related to boobies and frigatebirds. They’re all black, but if you get close enough, and catch them in the right light, they have a brilliant orange-yellow around their bills, and beautiful aquamarine eyes. Apparently, the inside of their mouth is bright blue, but I’ve not had the opportunity to see that first hand. They also have less preen oil on their feathers, which can get them waterlogged, making it difficult to fly. Although it makes it easier for them to swim underwater to catch fish. Because of this, they can often be seen sitting with their wings spread, drying them out.
Double-crested Cormorants eat almost exclusively fish. Sometimes big fish. On more than one occasion, I bared witness to one struggling to down a large bullhead catfish in Central Park. Double-crested Cormorants are fairly large waterbirds, and in both cases the bullhead was, oh I’d estimate about 15-18″ in length. And if you know catfish, you know that they have a huge, bony head. The first time I saw this, the cormorant, after about 20 minutes, got it down. I’m not quite sure how, or how a bird like that manages to digest a fish swallowed whole! In the second instance, the cormorant eventually gave up.
I haven’t seen many Double-crested Cormorants here in St. Louis. A few in early/mid fall, and that was it. They are more common near the coasts, as you can see dozens in Central Park alone, all year round. They only have a “double crest” in spring breeding season, and juveniles, of which a place like NYC has no shortage of, are more of a greyish-brown in color. Cormorants are really cool birds. I’ve only seen two species so far, but would love to spot some others. Hopefully, one day I can add a couple more to my life list. That’ll wrap it up! Join me next time for one of the spring’s earliest arrivals (in the East anyways), the Eastern Phoebe! See you all then!