Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus)

Pygmy Cormorant

[order] SULIFORMES | [family] Phalacrocoracidae | [latin] Phalacrocorax pygmaeus | [UK] Pygmy Cormorant | [FR] Cormoran pygmee | [DE] Zwergscharbe | [ES] Cormoran Pigmeo | [NL] Dwergaalscholver


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

Its rounded, fluffed-up head and shorter bill give it a gentler, more comical appearance than the other cormorants and its long paddle-like tail sticks out almost as much as its head so it can sometimes appear to be flying backwards. The distinctive head shape, long tail and small size are all good ways to identify this bird and at close range you should also notice that the adults have brown heads and black bodies

Listen to the sound of Pygmy Cormorant

[audio: Cormorant.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 75 cm wingspan max.: 90 cm
size min.: 45 cm size max.: 55 cm
incubation min.: 27 days incubation max.: 30 days
fledging min.: 65 days fledging max.: 30 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 7  


Eurasia : Southeast Europe


Pygmy Cormorant is a species of warm climates, mainly restricted to lowland freshwater and brackish habitats. It has been recorded in: open water with sizeable trees in the proximity; fresh or brackish marshes with thick reedbeds; open water or slow-flowing fresh water, including oxbows, backwaters, ricefields, swamps and flooded fields where fish can be easily caught in shallow water; densely vegetated areas with trees, bushes and even small floating islets of dead plants.
Wintering is mainly in coastal lagoons and deltas, and along rivers in riparian forest, but also in inland wetlands (e.g. at Lakes Prespa, Kerkini and Kastoria in Greece; Ovcharitza in Bulgaria; Sultan marshes, Lakes Uluabat and Isikli in Turkey).
There is no information available on passage habitats.


Pair-bonding activity takes place in the wintering areas, and eggs are eventually laid between the end of March and early July. Pygmy Cormorants breed in colonies, often with other species (cormorants, herons, Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia, Glossy Ibis Plegadis falcinellus, etc.). Nests are in dense trees or bushes on medium to high branches or in thick reedbeds 1-1.5 m above water-level. At Lake Kerkini in Greece, birds nest in mixed colonies in flooded forest; nests are 2.2-5.5 m above ground. Old nests are often repaired and re-used, and if nests are destroyed the birds will build a new. Clutch size is 2-8. Mean hatching success is 77.1% (74.0-78.7%), and the mean survival rate to three weeks old is 69.1% (68.1-69.9%). The young fledge at 6-7 weeks old.

Feeding habits

The diet is primarily fish, though small mammals, crustaceans, leeches and large insects are occasionally taken. 15 fish species were found in 130 birds collected in the Danube delta; these included perch Perca fluviatilis 18.8%, roach Rutilus rutilus 14.8%, carp Cyprinus carpio 10.8%, spined loach Cobitis taenia 9.7% and pike Esox lucius 5.6%; average weight of the fish was 15 g (7-71 g). Pygmy Cormorants feed exclusively in shallow water.


Phalacrocorax pygmeus has been downlisted to Least Concern as although declines continued in a few countries between 1990-2000, key populations in Azerbaijan and Romania were stable or increased, and the species underwent a moderate increase overall6. The estimated European population (75-94% of the global breeding range) is now 28,000-39,000 pairs, considerably higher than the 13,000 pairs estimated in 1996, with an estimated 8,000-12,000 breeding pairs in Azerbaijan and 11,500-14,000 breeding pairs in Romania6. The species breeds in south-east Europe (east from Italy), Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzebekistan, and winters primarily in Albania, Greece, the Balkan states, Turkey, Cyprus, Iraq, Iran, Azerbaijan and also Israel, Bulgaria, Romania and Syria. In south-east Europe, conservation measures have ameliorated the most important threats1, although concern still exists regarding habitat destruction and persecution in its wintering range7. It occurs in reedbeds, transition zones between reedbeds and open waters, extensively grazed or mowed shores and wet meadows5 and, in winter, in coastal wetlands, along rivers, and sometimes on inland lakes. The preferred nesting habitat is willow Salix trees but, in Azerbaijan, birds breed mainly in Tamarix.
The Pygmy Cormorant is the smallest of the three European cormorants. It is restricted to the south-east of the western Palearctic but has occurred accidentally in Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland and Tunisia.Today, it breeds in Albania, Bulgaria, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Turkey, Ukraine and Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (in Serbia), mainly along the coast of the Caspian Sea. It is not known whether it still breeds today in south-east Iraq and Iran. The world population is estimated to be c.13,000 pairs. Rose and Scott (1994) estimate the world population at c.30,000 individuals.
The species was more widespread during the Middle Ages, including even the British Isles. It stopped breeding in the Aral Sea area in the 1970s. It is extinct in Hungary (although apparently bred again there in 1988) and was considered to be a breeding species in Algeria in the nineteenth century. In 1940 it probably bred for the last time in Israel , but may breeding again, although nests have still not be found . It bred in Italy in 1980, 1981 and 1994, when three breeding pairs were discovered.
Pygmy Cormorant status Least Concern


Migratory, partially migratory, and resident; movements believed generally limited to relatively short distances. Balkans breeders winter partly inland, partly on or near north-east Mediterranean coasts. Evidently more definite seasonal movements by Black Sea breeders; largely deserts northern sectors in winter, when many present north Aegean. Deserts European colonies August-September, returning March-April. Many known instances of straggling west and north of breeding range (see Distribution); occasionally irruptive movements in small flocks.

Distribution map

Pygmy Cormorant distribution range map

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