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Sea Birds - Cormorants

(Phalacrocorax penicillatus)

Sea Birds - Cormorants - General characteristics

Cormorants are found throughout the world. Brandt's cormorant is the most common cormorant seen in the Sea Lion Caves area, ranges from Baja California to Southern British Columbia.

The Brandt's cormorant begins nesting in the spring, laying a clutch of three to six eggs. The young are dark brown at birth, but as they mature they turn almost black. Occasionally the pelagic and double crested cormorants are seen nesting with the Brandt's on the rocky ledges outside the cave.

Cormorants are excellent swimmers because of their webfeet. In some parts of the world a ring is placed snugly around the bird's neck so that it cannot swallow its catch, and it actually taught to bring fish back to its trainer for a reward.

Sea Birds - Cormorants - Physical characteristics

The Double-crested Cormorant - so-called because of a tuft of curly feathers on each side of the head -- is the only common species in this central part of the continent. It is a large black water bird about the size of a small wild goose. Flocks of them are sometimes seen sitting upright, with wings outspread, in dead trees, on pilings, or on rock ledges along shore. In flight they form lines or V's like geese except that they occasionally sail. The wings are also used to add speed under water where the rather long stiff tail feathers serve as a rudder. The short powerful legs and feet, with all four toes webbed, are well suited for rapid swimming in pursuit of fish. The slender beak is hooked at the tip for grabbing and holding large fish.

Sea Birds - Cormorants - Habitat

Cape Cormorants can be found between Namibia and Algoa Bay, South Africa. The species is colonial and breeding can occur whenever sufficient food is available. At Lambert's Bay, nests are built on fishing boats in the harbor and on any elevated site, including the stacked dolosse and rocky outcrops. The nest is a bowl built of sticks, seaweed and guano, in which between three and five eggs are laid. The eggs are incubated for approximately 23 days. Both adults incubate the egg. Chicks can fly at nine weeks.

Sea Birds - Cormorants - Ancient stories
Since ancient times in China, cormorants have been tamed and trained to catch and bring back fish to their owners, just as falcons were used to catch game in midair or on land. Sometimes they were completely domesticated, their eggs hatched under hens, and the young fed by hand on chopped eel and other fish. Training started when they were fully grown and feathered. A string to a stake at the water’s edge would tie one. At a whistle signal it was pushed into the water and tossed a bit of fish. Then, after a different whistle, it was pulled back and rewarded again. As soon as the bird got the idea, live fish were used. Then it was graduated to a boat or raft and a string tied around its neck so that it couldn't swallow the fish it caught. With several of these trained birds, a Chinese fisherman was in business. The Japanese use them for sport fishing and, in Elizabethan England; the Master of the Cormorants was a member of the royal household.