The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for June 9th, 2010

Double-crested Cormorant, I presume?

with 2 comments

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A common sight on the East River and other NY waterways are the diving antics of Cormorants. Breeding colonies of them can be found at several locations- notably U Thant and South Brother Islands. Your humble narrator, amongst other inadequacies, is no expert on ornithology but a bit of research has led me to believe that this is a juvenile Double Crested Cormorant.

from wikipedia

The Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. It occurs along inland waterways as well as in coastal areas, and is widely distributed across North America, from the Aleutian Islands in Alaska down to Florida and Mexico. Measuring 70–90 cm (28–35 in) in length, it is an all-black bird which gains a small double crest of black and white feathers in breeding season. It has a bare patch of orange-yellow facial skin. Five subspecies are recognized.

The Double-crested Cormorant is found near rivers, lakes and along the coastline. It mainly eats fish and hunts by swimming and diving. Its feathers, like those of all cormorants, are not waterproof and it must spend time drying them out after spending time in the water. Once threatened by use of DDT, the numbers of this bird have increased markedly in recent years.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A diver, the Cormorant feeds on invertebrates like crabs, or vertebrates like fish, and frogs. It swallows its prey head first, after flipping the unfortunate critter into the air. It is said that there is a specie of cormorant which is trained by both Chinese and Japanese fishermen, who affix a metal ring about the captive bird’s neck to discourage swallowing, to accomplish their industry. Apparently, this is a global phenomena.


In England, according to Willoughby, they were hoodwinked in the manner of the “Falcons”, ’til they were let off to fish, and a leather thong was tied round the lower part of their necks, preventing them from swallowing the fish. Whitlock tells us “that he had a cast of them manned like Hawks, which would come to hand.” He took much pleasure in them, and relates that the best he had was one presented to him by Mr Wood, Master of the Cormorants to Charles I. (Thomas Bewick’s British Birds-1826). The Cormorants have been used as symbols of nobility, indulgence, and in more modern times a totem for fishermen and a bountiful catch.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

When the Cormorant goes into one of it’s dives, it might go as deep as 25 feet and be underwater for as long as a minute. This particular specimen was diving at Hells Gate, on the East River. One marvels at the idea of training a Cormorant to carry some sort of low light camera to the shattered bottom of Hells Gate, with its current swept carpet of wrecked ships dating back to Dutch times.


The Double-crested Cormorant is the most numerous and widespread North American cormorant. This large, dark waterbird is the only cormorant that occurs in large numbers inland, near fresh water, as well as on the coast. Cormorants (from the Latin for “sea crow”) are often seen floating low in the water, neck and bill raised, or perching upright near water to dry their outstretched wings.

Written by Mitch Waxman

June 9, 2010 at 12:32 pm

%d bloggers like this: