Bob and I have seen many Double crested Cormorants in the Georgian Bay area when canoeing the Beaver River and in the Minesing Swamp, not to mention right in the town of Thornbury, but we had never come across a member of the species at Lynde Shores Conservation Area in Whitby until on a recent visit there.
This juvenile double crested cormorant was so preoccupied that it paid little heed to me standing on the nearby bank snapping pictures. Young cormorants have a bill that is mostly orange or yellow, and their plumage is paler overall, tending to be browner or greyer than an adult’s black plumage. Juveniles also exhibit a pale throat and breast.
Right at the entrance to the conservation area, a bridge spans Lynde Creek where visitors exit the parking lot. On either side of the bridge, the creek broadens into a good-sized body of water, and that is where we spotted a pair of cormorants working the waters in search of food.
Unlike ducks, Double crested Cormorants do not have well-developed oil glands, which results in less preen oil, and as a result, their feathers become soaked rather than shedding water. There is actually a benefit to this – Cormorants are able to hunt underwater more effectively. When swimming on the surface of water, Cormorants ride very low, and often, only their long neck and head is visible.
In addition to the Double crested Cormorants, Lynde Creek was very busy with other waterfowl such as this Great Blue Heron. The late afternoon hour had everyone out in search of their last meal of the day.
Double crested Cormorants are actually quite colourful birds when you consider the orange-yellow skin on their face and throat and their striking turquoise eyes that sparkle like gemstones. If you can ever get a peak inside one’s mouth, you would see that it is a bright blue. Of particular interest is the thin, strongly-hooked bill that is roughly as long as the head.
As Bob and I observed this Cormorant, it repeatedly dove beneath the waves. Using its webbed feet to propel itself, it is capable of diving to a depth of over 24 feet and remaining there for up to 70 seconds. That is astounding.
A Cormorant’s impressive fishing technique is also attributable to its powerful propulsion. Cormorants can successfully chase and catch fish underwater, and if the fish is small enough, the bird will eat the fish while still submerged. Only if the fish, crustacean or amphibian is too large will a Cormorant rise to the surface, flip the prey into the air, then catch and swallow it headfirst.
Because Cormorants do not have waterproof wings, it is very common to see them perched in the sun after emerging from the water, with their wings spread wide to dry. With their small heads at the end of long, kinked necks, these gangly waterbirds appear almost prehistoric.
Double crested Cormorants are the most widespread Cormorant in North America. These large, heavy-bodied birds are the only species of Cormorant to occur in large numbers inland, near fresh water. When this Cormorant headed down the creek and around a bend, Bob and I took our leave of Lynde Shores that day. It had been a very worthwhile outing.