Okefenokee Species Spotlight: Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant
Double-crested Cormorant; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. Photographed March 4, 2017 on Billy’s Lake. ©www.williamwisephoto.com

I can’t recall a trip to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge when I haven’t seen a Double-crested Cormorant. Although more abundant in some months than others, Phalacrocorax auritus seem to be a regular inhabitant of the refuge. They can be seen roosting in trees along the horizon, perched just above the water getting ready for a dive, or swimming through the blackwater with just their neck and head above the surface. I’ve also seen small groups of Cormorants fly over the open skies of the Okefenokee Swamp in a V-shaped pattern, at first mistaking them for Canada Geese.

eBird frequency chart for the Double-crested Cormorant in the Okefenokee NWR.

To me, the cormorants are kind of an odd looking, goofy, web-footed bird somewhere between a duck and an Anhinga. They are a dark colored bird, but have a bit of a sheen if you can get close enough to one when the light is just right. A close look also reveals the striking bright blue eyes that look translucent like a shining gem. I’ve never noticed the “double crests” on a Double-crested Cormorant in the Okefenokee (or any I’ve observed in the southeast). But apparently they have wispy tufts of feathers on either side of the head in breeding season. Individuals in Alaska reportedly have white crests, making it much more visible.

Like the Anhinga, their characteristic pose is the spread-eagle stance. Less preening oil, and thereby less buoyancy in water, makes them excellent divers, but they become water-logged while diving for fish, which is their primary food. This brings the cormorants out onto an open perch after a dive to dry out their wings. There are often groups of cormorants in a line with wings spread on some fallen cypress tree in the swamp.

With their color, basic shape, habitat and range overlapping with the Anhinga, the two can be easily confused from a distance.  The most tell-tale difference can be seen in the bill. The bill of the Double-crested Cormorant is shorter than the Anhinga and hooded downward at the tip. The Anhinga has a much sleeker, spear-like, pointed bill.


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/61560418

Sources:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Double-crested_Cormorant/overview

https://ebird.org/region/USFWS_714/

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