This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the double-crested cormorant.
These cormorants, phalacrocorax auratus, are labeled water turkeys, crow ducks, shags and lawyers. They congregate in marine and inland waters ranging north to southern Alaska and south to Sinaloa, Mexico.
A display of brightly colored orange/yellow skin covers the face, throat and base of the bill. They have blue eyelids; a lean, long neck; short wings; long hooked beak; and black webbed feet attached to short legs. Plumage is dark brown/black with a greenish bronze sheen. They appear as a gangly cross between a loon and a goose.
The name evolves from the male’s curly black double crests formed to attract the female during a monogamous breeding season (April through August). Crests are soon lost after luring the female into his chosen area of sticks, vegetation, twigs and discarded manmade materials for the female to build a nest on the ground or in a tree. He performs elaborate courtship dances in the water, waving his wings to display his brightly colored skin. The female typically lays four bluish-white eggs which are incubated by both parents. Eggs hatch within 25-28 days. Hatchlings obtain independence within 10 weeks.
Fish caught in shallow water is the primary choice of food, but they also consume insects, amphibians and crustaceans. Strong jaw muscles aid in grasping slippery prey. As they dive underwater for food, the lack of preen oil aids in submersion. Cormorants perch on sunny rocks, trees or elevated areas and spread their wings to dry.
Economically, cormorants are of no importance to humans and are considered detrimental by fisheries.
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