Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Double-crested Cormorant

[order] SULIFORMES | [family] Phalacrocoracidae | [latin] Phalacrocorax auritus | [UK] Double-crested Cormorant | [FR] Cormoran a aigrettes | [DE] Ohrenscharbe | [ES] Cormoran Orejudo | [NL] Geoorde Aalscholver


Monotypic species


The cosmopolitan genus Phalacrocorax of the Suliformes family includes thirty-five species frequenting coasts and islands. The face and throat are naked; the bill is long, and the upper mandible much curved at the point, while the lower supports a dilatable membrane which forms a gular pouch. The legs are short, strong, and abdominal, with three toes in front and one behind, all united; the claw of the middle toe is pectinated and probably used to dress the plumage and to free the bird from insect pests. The wings are of moderate length, and the tail-feathers stiff and rigid. Many of the species develop crests or wattles in the breeding season. These birds feed exclusively on fish. All Cormorants, Shags and Darters have a small bone at the back of the skull, the occipital style. This bone is flexibly attached to the skull and is supposed to have a function for the grasping ability of these birds. The ramphotecal coating of the bills of the cormorants are divided in plates, very much like those of the tubenoses, without visible nostrils.

Physical charateristics

Cormorants are large birds (70 to 90 cm in length, 1.2 to 2.5 kg) with dark brown or black plumage that has a dull greenish or bronze sheen. They have lean bodies, long necks and relatively short wings. They have long beaks with a hooked upper mandible and bright orange-yellow skin that covers the face, throat and base of the bill. Their black feet are webbed feet and found on short legs, and their tails are wedge-shaped. During the breeding season, double-crested cormorants have two curly black crests on their heads, blue eyelids, a dusky bill and orange on the throat sac and lores. In the winter, adults lack the crests, show no blue on eyelids, have a yellow bill with red on gular sac, and yellow behind the ocher.

Males are slightly bigger than females. Juveniles are much duller in color than adults. They are usually dark brown with grayish or whitish coloring underneath.

Listen to the sound of Double-crested Cormorant

[audio: Cormorant.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 125 cm wingspan max.: 130 cm
size min.: 70 cm size max.: 90 cm
incubation min.: 25 days incubation max.: 28 days
fledging min.: 21 days fledging max.: 28 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 7  


North America, Middle America : widespread


Double-crested cormorants are found in a variety of marine and inland aquatic habitats. They require water for feeding and nearby perches, such as rocks, sandbars, pilings, shipwrecks, wires, trees or docks for resting on and drying out during the day.


Cormorants are monogamous and breed in colonies of up to three thousand pairs. The male chooses a nest site and then advertises for a female by standing in a ?wing-waving display? that shows off the brightly-colored skin on his head and neck. Males also perform elaborate courtship dances, including dances in the water where they present the female with nest material. After forming a pair, double-crested cormorants lose their crests.

Double-crested cormorants do not defend a large territory around the nest. They defend a small area immediately around the nest that is less than one meter in diameter.
Double-crested cormorants breed between April and August, with peak activity occurring in May through July. The males arrive at the breeding colony first and chose a nest site. They then advertise for a mate. The male and female work together to repair an old nest or to build a new one of sticks, twigs, vegetation and flotsam and jetsam found nearby, including rope, fishnet, buoys and deflated balloons. The male brings most of the material to the female who builds the nest and guards it from other colony members who would otherwise steal the nest materials. The nests typically built on the ground, but are occasionally built in trees. After nest construction is complete, the female lays 1 to 7 (usually 4) pale bluish-white eggs with a chalky coating. The eggs are laid 1 to 3 days apart. Both parents incubate the eggs, which hatch asynchronously after 25 to 28 days. The newly hatched young are altricial, and are cared for by both parents. Both parents feed the chicks regurgitated food. The young begin to leave the nest when they are 3 to 4 weeks old. They can fly at about 6 weeks and dive at 6 to 7 weeks. The chicks become completely independent of their parents by 10 weeks of age. Double-crested cormorants do not breed until they are at least 2 years old.
Both parents incubate the eggs and care for the altricial chicks. The parents feed the chicks regurgitated food 2 to 6 times per day. On hot days, parents fetch water and pour it directly from their beak into the open mouths of the chicks.

Feeding habits

Double-crested cormorants feed primarily on fish, but also eat insects, crustaceans and amphibians. They generally feed in shallow water (less than 8 m deep) within 5 km of shore, diving underwater to catch their prey. They may swallow small fish while underwater, but bring larger prey up to the surface to shake, clean or hammer on the water before consuming them.

When feeding on schooling fish, cormorants may feed together in flocks. They have a hook-like tip on the upper maxilla of their bill and specialized muscles that aid them in grasping their slippery prey.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be increasing, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Double-crested cormorants breed across North America, as far north as southern Alaska. They winter in North America as far south as Sinaloa, Mexico, and are common on marine and inland waters throughout their range.
Double-crested Cormorant status Least Concern


Northern and inland populations migratory, although N Pacific birds only slightly so: race auritus performs spectacular migrations along coast or inland, following river valleys, and winters in Gulf of Mexico and Florida; cincinatus winters along coast of British Columbia; albociliatus moves from upland areas of interior to lowlands or Pacific coast. Race floridanus fairly sedentary.

Distribution map

Double-crested Cormorant distribution range map

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