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Monday, March 5, 2012

Pelagic Cormorant

Some people don't look twice at cormorants, but when viewed up close in good light, they can be spectacular.

The Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) is the smallest cormorant on the West Coast.  They roost and nest on the outer cliffs of Bodega Head, and may be seen diving and feeding near shore.  (The name "pelagic" is misleading as this species spends more time in the coastal zone than offshore.)

In general they are very slender, with a small head, a long, thin bill, and a long tail.  In breeding plumage, which they are attaining now, they show greenish-bronze iridescence on the back and purplish iridescence on the neck.  With a good view, you can also see red facial skin near the base of the bill, and scattered white plumes on the neck.  

I'm still working on getting good photos of this species, but these are the best so far.

Note the large totipalmate webbed feet all four toes are connected by webbing (also true for pelicans). They roost and nest on very narrow ledges and are strong swimmers (dives may last up to a minute).

In flight, two large white flank patches are visible.

Here's one more photo.  It includes both Pelagic Cormorants and Brandt's Cormorants.  Remember that the Pelagics are much smaller, more slender, with thinner necks and much thinner bills.  The Brandt's are much more robust, and sometimes show a buffy colored patch on their throats.

There are three Brandt's Cormorants in the center of the photo; the rest (four on the left, four on the right) appear to be Pelagics.


Unknown said...

Divers may be lucky enough to see these birds foraging underwater, propelled by their strong legs and large webbed feet. I've seen Brandt's cormorants swim by at over 18m (60ft), and they reportedly dive up to 50m (164ft!

Claudia said...

I just want to mention that many of us have much in common with Pelagic Cormorants in that:

Some people don't look twice at us, but when viewed up close in a good light, we can be spectacular.