Cormorants are members of the pelican family.

Daily Life

Cormorants swimming © Charles Lam CC BY-SA 2.0Daily Life: Cormorants are rarely found far out to sea, preferring to fish near to the coastline and perch on rocks, jetties, cliffs or trees. They often go out feeding together, flying in lines, then settling on the water in a tight bunch. They swim around, ducking their heads beneath the surface to look for fish. When one bird dives, the others follow it. Fish are brought to the surface and swallowed head first.

Cormorants are expert swimmers, floating low in the water, sometimes with only their head and neck showing. To dive, they jump up and plunge in head-first, or just sink beneath the surface. They may dive down as far as 100 feet and the longest recorded dive is of 71 seconds. Usually they stay under for less than half a minute, swimming about 20-30 feet below the surface.

Cormorants are strong fliers, flying rather like a goose, with neck stretched out, head held up and rapid wing beats. They can soar in air currents, but usually fly low over the water.

Breeding: Cormorants nest in colonies, sometimes numbering thousands of birds. The nests are usually built on rocky cliffs, rocky islets or sometimes by rivers and lakes, even in trees. The nest is large and bowl-shaped, built of twigs, grasses, seaweed or reeds and becomes plastered with the birds' droppings. During courtship, cormorants wave their long necks about and the female may bend her neck right over her back. 2 - 4 eggs are laid and are incubated by both parents for about a month. The newly-hatched young are naked and have skins like black leather but later grow a curly, dark grey down. They are fed once a day by each parent with regurgitated fish; the chicks take this by pushing their heads down their parent's gullet. The chicks leave the nest and can fly in 5 - 8 weeks.

Cormorant drying wings © Tony Hisgett CC BY 2.0Wings hanging out to dry?: Cormorants are often seen perching on a rock or jetty with their wings outstretched. It is often assumed that a bird in this posture is drying its wings because they are not well waterproofed. However, this would be surprising in a bird which spends so much time in the water and it can be seen holding its wings open in the pouring rain! A more likely explanation for this habit is that it keeps a group of birds spaced out. When a bird lands, it extends its wings so that the birds nearby shift away; when it folds its wings the line of birds is well-spaced with a wingspan between each one. Being spaced out is also an advantage when taking off in a hurry.

Read More: Cormorants and Humans

Related Resources