Bird Lore: Double-crested Cormorant

Photos by LeRoy VanHee
Double-crested Cormorant (non-breeding plumage) Photo by LeRoy VanHee

The Double-crested Cormorant is a year-round resident of Washington’s outer coast, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the northern inland marine waters. It is only a winter resident of Edmonds and the lower reaches of Puget Sound because it breeds in summer on the tops of coastal offshore rocks and low islands.

This cormorant is large, black, and has orange bare skin at the base of its stout hooked bill. Its eyes are a sparkling aquamarine blue. An immature bird has a dirty white chest. In breeding plumage, the adult has a white tuft behind each eye. This cormorant spends a lot of time perched. It has less preen oil than many seabirds so it typically can be seen with wings extended to dry its feathers. Many refer to this as its benediction pose. It is a more agile underwater hunter because of its minimal preen oil.

Double-crested Cormorant (breeding plumage) Photo by Carol Riddell

When it leaves the water, the Double-crested Cormorant thrashes its wings in a long and labored take-off. Other birds with labored efforts to become airborne run along the water as they thrash their wings. In contrast, the Double-crested Cormorant hops along the surface until it is airborne. The feet of the cormorant in LeRoy’s first photo are in a hopping rather than running stance. You can watch this in action on this short YouTube video:

Cormorants eat fish. The Double-crested Cormorant has a more varied diet than other cormorants because it utilizes both salt and fresh water habitats. Its diet includes about 250 fish species as well as crabs, shrimp, crayfish, frogs, and eels. An adult will eat about a pound of food a day. In the second photo, the cormorant has caught a sculpin, perhaps the one known as brown Irish lord.

Photos by LeRoy VanHee
Photo by LeRoy Van Hee

There were many more Double-crested Cormorants in Edmonds marine waters before removal of the union oil dock at Marina Beach. You may recall the hundreds of cormorants that perched on that structure. They are now limited to the few offshore pilings, the ferry dolphins, and the underwater park buoys. They compete with other birds, such as gulls and Pelagic Cormorants, for the few remaining perch sites. Some can also be seen at Lake Ballinger because this cormorant uses inland fresh water sites across North America.

Listen to the call of a Double-crested Cormorant here:

— By Carol Riddell

Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.

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