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Posts Tagged ‘Brandt’s cormorants’

Cormorants: Stars of the Silver Screen and Literature

Posted by Greg on August 29, 2012

Double-crested Cormorant. Photo by Mike Baird (Wikimedia Commons)

The name “cormorant” applies to a large variety of birds worldwide.  According to the USDA Wildlife Service, there are 30 different species of cormorants, both flighted and flightless, around the globe. The flightless cormorants inhabit the Galapagos Islands only.  Many reliable sources currently place cormorants in the Pelecaniformes order of birdswhich also includes gannets, pelicans, boobies and great frigates.  Of course, both the numbers and the order are subject to change as scientific discoveries are made and definitions are tweaked.

Flightless Cormorant. Photo by Charles J. Sharp (Wikimedia Commons)

According to Carolina Birds.org“The Pelecaniformes order is in a state of flux. The order was originally defined to include birds that have feet with four web toes. Most members also have non functional nostril slits. They feed on fish or similar marine life. However, many of these species have obtained these features by convergent evolution and not because of common ancestry. At least one new order will probably be formed.” While researching for this post, I found the cormorants’ order listed as Suliformes in more than one trusted reference. The argument goes on.

Cormorants make their nests in a wide variety of ways and places. Britannica Online says, “Cormorants inhabit seacoasts, lakes, and some rivers. The nest may be made of seaweed and guano on a cliff or of sticks in a bush or tree. The two to four chalky eggs, pale blue when fresh, hatch in three to five weeks, and the young mature in the third year.”

Cormorants aren’t particularly spectacular looking birds. Continuing the quote from Britannica, “Cormorants have a long hook-tipped bill, patches of bare skin on the face, and a small gular sac (throat). The largest and most widespread species is the common, or great, cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo; white-cheeked, and up to 100 cm (40 inches) long, it breeds from eastern Canada to Iceland, across Eurasia to Australia and New Zealand, and in parts of Africa.”

Brandt’s cormorants and friends on the La Jolla coast

According to e-how.com,The cormorant has featured prominently in many famous works of literature. In “Paradise Lost,” John Milton used the cormorant as a symbol of avarice and dishonesty as it sat in the Tree of Life as Eve entered Eden. In “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte, the eponymous heroine painted a cormorant to represent a cruel woman she disliked. During medieval times, many cultures used cormorant plumage in their coat-of-arms and other heraldry.”

Jody and I recently saw the movie Master and Commander. In the film, the ship’s doctor (and nature enthusiast) discovers flightless cormorants on the Galapagos Islands but is frustrated as events prevent him from going back to collect one. As Lucky Jack reminds the good doctor in the end:

Capt. Jack Aubrey: Well, Stephen… the bird’s flightless?
Dr. Stephen Maturin: Yes.
Capt. Jack Aubrey: It’s not going anywhere.

Master and Commander

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Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding | Tagged: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Curious about cormorants? So is Rover!

Posted by Greg on July 11, 2012

Today’s feathered feature is the Brandt’s cormorant Jody and I met on our last trip to sunny Southern California.

The Brandt’s cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) is a sea bird common to the Pacific Coast of North America, from California to Washington. The full range, however, is from southern Alaska to Baja Mexico, wherever the food is most plentiful. This sea bird depends heavily on the California Current, which moves south along the Pacific Coast of North America, causing  upwellings of nutrients that attract the bird’s food. Its diet consists mainly of fish, along with shrimp and crabs. The Brandt’s cormorant is a great diver that descends from the water’s surface and uses its powerful webbed feet to swim masterfully. This cormorant commonly dives to depths of 40 feet, chasing prey that they grab with their hooked bill and then swallow whole.

We came across this juvenile Brandt’s cormorant on La Jolla’s beautiful coast.

Juvenile Brandt’s Cormorant enjoying the view in La Jolla, California

Brandt’s cormorants have distinctive white cheeks, making them easy to identify. According to the Channel Islands National Park, California, “Brandt’s cormorants weigh about 4.6 pounds and measure 34 inches in length, with a wingspan of about 4 feet. Sexes look similar; with short black legs, a long black body and neck, and a dark bill with a hooked tip. Breeding adults have brilliant turquoise eyes and a bright blue gular pouch-distinctive among this species of cormorant-which fades quickly after the nesting season. Their breeding plumage also includes white plumes on either side of the head, neck, and back. Like other cormorants, Brandt’s cormorants often spread their wings out to dry after a dive, as their feathers are not completely waterproof and become soaked. This helps reduce buoyancy and allows the cormorant to forage deep under water.

Juvenile Brandt’s cormorants (like the one we met) are brownish black with a lighter tan underside that forms a V-shape where the neck meets the chest.

What’s up?

The picture below shows the result of a pet owner disregarding  San Diego County beach dog laws and commonly accepted beach pet etiquette. Although the bird seemingly remained calm, cool and collected, this unexpected encounter gave Jody and me a good scare! Luckily, Rover was just curious. He didn’t get any closer to the young cormorant before his errant owner realized where he was and called him off.

Uh oh! Fido isn’t on a leash!

The inquisitive pooch was not only off-leash but was also on the beach within restricted hours. San Diego County has a very specific set of hours in which dogs are allowed on beaches, and at all times they must be kept on a leash.

Of course, our pal Rover didn’t know any better, but his human might want to consider planning a visit to one of the four special “Dog  Beaches” on the San Diego Coast. They include Dog Beach-Ocean Beach, Fiesta Island-Mission Bay, North Beach Dog Run-Coronado, and Del Mar Dog Beach-Del Mar. Each of these beaches has their own rules. Stop by the county’s Dog Beaches site for details.

“Properly trained, a man can be dog’s best friend.”  ~Corey Ford, American humorist

Posted in Beach and Coastal Wildlife, Beach Birding, Southern California Beaches | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

 
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