DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax auritus)
This excellent diver is a summer resident in PEI. The double-crested cormorant is a relatively large seabird with black plumage, and black legs and feet, measuring around 30 inches long and with a wingspan of around four feet. In spite of its classification as a ‘seabird’, this cormorant can be found around fresh water such as rivers and lakes inland.
It feeds mainly from fish which it hunts by diving at depths that can reach more than 20 feet and last more than one minute. Its feathers are apparently not completely waterproof, since this bird can be seen drying its wings by opening them against the wind when back from fishing.
The ‘double-crested’ part of this bird’s name comes from the fact that the male displays a crest of white feathers on each side of its head during mating season. The double-crested cormorant is silent when flying, and these birds generally fly in a V-formation to save energy. They nest in colonies, and after a number of years the trees where they built their nests die from guano buildup, so the birds need to find new nesting grounds. But they also build their nests on cliffs or sheltered islands.
This bird is considered as a ‘nuisance’ by some groups as they believe they hunt commercial fish. However analysis of the double-crested cormorant’s stomach content appears to contradict that reputation. In some areas double-crested cormorants are culled as they are considered a threat to the eco-system, including vulnerable bird species.
There’s a fairly large group of those cormorants that hang out on the pillars of the old Hillsborough bridge all season, rain or sunshine, day or night (their silhouettes can be seen against the city lights when driving at night on the ‘new’ Hillsborough bridge, which runs parallel to the old one). They are very resilient to the weather, and only the fiercest winds will prompt them to seek shelter elsewhere. As can be seen from the amount of guano on the pillars, these birds have used that spot for quite some time.
This video below shows a double-crested cormorant drying its wings on a pillar of the old Hillsborough bridge. Those pillars are white from the birds’ guano.