Double-Crested Cormorant

Phalacrocorax auritus
Range Map

The Double-Crested Cormorant is a versatile bird, and we find them in either salt or freshwater environs. During most of the year, the double crests that give this bird its name are not visible. Only during the breeding season do these features develop. When these birds build nests in trees, the accumulation of fecal matter can kill the tree.

I’ve seen abandoned structures such as derricks covered in nests of these birds to nest in. I’ve also found them nesting on the ground near tern colonies in San Diego’s South Bay.

Double-Crested Cormorants often live over 20 years, but they rarely breed until the age of three. Both parents share the duties of raising their young. In some regions, there is concern about overpopulation, and some communities have taken controversial measures to reduce their numbers.

Science recognises five subspecies of this bird. Including winter, summer and migrations, we may find these birds across most of the interior of the North American continent from the prairie provinces of Canada to the Yucatan peninsula. And they are hearty enough to endure the elements of the Alaskan coast to the Aleutian Islands:

  • N. a. cincinatus breeds in Alaska and spends winters south to British Columbia.
  • N. a. albociliatus breeds along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to Baja California and Sinaloa (Mexico), and sometimes as far east as New Mexico, Utah, and Montana.
  • N. a. auritus breeds in eastern and central North America. They migrate in winter from the mid-Atlantic Coast to the Gulf of Mexico.
  • N. a. floridanus lives in Florida and the Caribbean.
  • N. a. heuretus lives in the Bahamas.

In March 2021, while visiting the mouth of the Rio Grande at Boca Chica Beach, I watched a proper drama play out, that began with a Double-Crested Cormorant capturing a fish too big to swallow easily. A Neotropic Cormorant took an interest and began chasing its larger cousin. The game took to the air, and while the birds sailed overhead, I captured the excitement that ended when directly overhead, the larger bird narrowly escaped with his bounty while the smaller bird pressed and missed the theft by inches.

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