The most widespread member of the Cormorant family, and the largest of the specie in Australia, the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is a handsome seabird and the subject of our #30 Bird Photography Challenge. It looks a little dull at a distance, but when you are lucky enough to get close, or observe it through a zoom lens or binoculars, it is a very attractive bird.
What does it look like?
The Great Cormorant varies in size from 70 to 90cms, with a wingspan between 121 and 160cms. His plumage is almost entirely black with a bluish gloss to it, except for a white patch on the side of the head and on each thigh. The legs and feet are charcoal. Despite the drab look from afar, it is a striking bird with bright highlights on its face and amazing patterns in the plumage on its back. It has a yellow face with a hooked grey bill and piercing blue-green eyes.
How does it behave?
The Great Cormorant mainly feeds on fish, crustaceans, aquatic insects and frogs. It is an excellent swimmer and captures its food in shallow underwater dives which can last up to one minute. Its swims and pursues prey using its feet but not its wings. Sometimes the prey it catches is a little too big to swallow easily. We have seen some struggling to do so, their neck barely wide enough, nearly choking on their meal.
After a dive you can often see the cormorants drying their wings. Great cormorants are social birds and around breeding time they can form very large colonies, but they are often seen feeding alone.
The Great Cormorant breeds mainly on the coast, nesting on cliffs or in trees. Four eggs are laid in a large nest of seaweed or twigs on the ground or in a low tree. Both parents incubate and care for the young.
Did you know?
The specie is often used in the traditional practice of “cormorant fishing” in parts of China. Fishermen tie a line around the throat of trained birds and deploy them from small boats. The cormorants catch fish without being able to swallow the larger ones, and the fisherman removes the fish from the birds’ throat.
Where is it found?
The Great Cormorant is found in aquatic habitats, such as coastal areas, large lakes and rivers. The photos were taken in the Gippsland Lakes, in Victoria, with a Canon 60D camera and EF100-400 lens, hand-held.
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