This flexible-necked, goose-sized bird is a very efficient fishing machine. From the surface, it dives under water and uses its large webbed feet to paddle furiously while it uses its stiff broad tail as a rudder. It snags fish in its long slender hooked bill equipped with sharp serrated mandibles for a hold-fast grip.
Because it doesn’t have water-repellent feathers it must air dry its feathers by spreading its wings while standing upright on a perch. This activity is frequently observed at docks and piers along Long Island’s bays.
The Atlantic coast cormorants include the great cormorant and the double-crested cormorant.
Long Island is the southern-most winter range of the great cormorant. Some double-crested cormorants can be found in our area year-round as their northern-most winter range is Long Island and during the other seasons they are fairly common.
The double-crested cormorant adult, Phalacrocorax auritus, is about 30 inches in length and has a wing span almost double that length. It is black except for an orange throat pouch above its long flexible neck. Its two curly plumed crests, as per its name, are not often visible. The immature double-crested has a white breast.
All cormorants hold their bills in an upward slant while swimming on the surface of the water.
Their only voice is a guttural grunt. Cormorants are social birds and generally nest in communities. Sometimes they fish in groups using a herding technique to move a school of fish to shallow water where snagging the fish becomes simplified.
To take flight, they must paddle across the water’s surface to gain enough momentum. When migrating, cormorants utilize a V-formation like geese, but unlike geese they remain silent.
The increased presence of cormorants in our area is a good news/bad news issue. The good news is that any increase in their population generally indicates that the water quality has improved. Cormorant reproductive capabilities are severely impaired by the presence of pollutants in the water. More cormorants usually means cleaner water.
However, the down side of an increased cormorant population is that they are such voracious feeders and efficient anglers that the bait fishing and sport fishing people are concerned.
Studies do show that the cormorant diet is mostly small non-commercial fish, with sport fish representing only two percent. But, they do compete with larger sport fish for food and they definitely will take large quantities of small bait fish. Further, cormorants also damage vegetation and can cause bank erosion along the bay side.