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Double-crested Cormorant

Common Name: Double-crested Cormorant.

Scientific Name: Phalacrocorax Auritus.

What to look for?  Here is a description from All About Birds: “the gangly Double-crested Cormorant is a prehistoric-looking, matte-black fishing bird with yellow-orange facial skin”. They have small heads on long, kinked (S-shaped) necks. They float low in the water with its thin neck and bill raised. They have distinctive beaks with the upper beak downward curving to create a hook at the end. They will perch upright on the water with wings half-spread to dry. The double-crest of the Double-crested Cormorant is only visible on adults during breeding season.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? If you think of the Double-crested Cormorant as the "submersibles" of Carillon Stonegate Pond, they will be easy to find. Look toward the middle of either of our ponds. You will see the lonely Double-crested Cormorant popping in and out of the water as they fish. They are generally around from Spring to late Fall.

How big are they? The Double-crested Cormorant averages 32 inches in length. They weigh in at approximately 4 pounds. And their wingspan is approximately 4 feet.

What are their flight patterns? Unlike ducks, cormorants’ feathers are not very waterproof. While having water resistant feathers protects a bird’s body from getting soaked, this oily coating isn’t great for diving. Cormorants’ feathers instead get waterlogged, allowing the bird to sink and dive more efficiently.  This is thought to be an adaptation that helps cormorants hunt underwater more effectively. Having good wings for swimming, however, comes at a price when flying. Because they have short wings which are perfect to use as rudders, cormorants have the highest energy cost of any flying bird.

How else do they behave? Their fishing technique is impressive: diving and chasing fish underwater propelled by their webbed feet (and sometimes using their wings). Double-crested cormorants can dive to depths of 25 feet. They usually fish in the mid- to upper-tiers of a pond or lake. On Carillon Stonegate pond, our double-crested cormorant diving excursions typically last approximately 30 seconds before they resurface. The tip of a cormorant’s upper bill is shaped like a hook, which is helpful for catching prey.

What’s for dinner? Fish. Therefore, they like the well-stocked fish market at Carillon Stonegate ponds!

Where do they take up residence? Double-crested Cormorants are the most widespread cormorant in North America, and the one most frequently seen in inland freshwater areas. Cormorants may be found in almost any aquatic habitat from our seaside coasts to freshwater lakes, rivers, bays and ponds.   Double-crested Cormorants are the primary inland cormorants. These birds also need perching areas such as rocks and trees to rest, dry off and digest their meals. They tend to form breeding colonies and nest in clusters of trees in or near water, on sea cliffs, or on the ground on islands. At Carillon Stonegate Pond, you may sight a cormorant more typically in the Spring and morning. Usually there will be only a single cormorant in the middle of our ponds, diving for fish.

Where do they migrate? The Double-crested Cormorant in northern Illinois typically migrate during the winter months to the southern and southeastern U.S. These birds found in Florida and coastal Pacific Northwest may not migrate at all. See map from Birds of North America on the right.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the Double-crested Cormorant has rebounded from declines in the early to mid- 1900's and has seen steady increases in populations. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 750 thousand.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Double-crested cormorants are mostly silent. All About Birds describes their sounds as “deep, guttural grunts that sound a bit like an oinking pig”. They apparently grunt when taking off or landing. Here is a link to the sounds of the Double-crested Cormorant.

Interesting Facts About Double-crested Cormorants:

  • Cormorants are first cousins of the pelicans.

  • The name cormorant is derived from the Latin 'corvus marinus', which means 'sea crow'.

  • The oldest known Double-crested Cormorant was approximately 22 years.

  • In 1974, there were only 12 cormorant nests in the state of Illinois; today, the Will County Audubon Society reports that there are over 650 nests just at Lake Renwick Preserve near Plainfield.

  • In Asian countries, the cormorant is used to harvest fish. A ring is placed around the bird’s neck so it cannot swallow the fish. The cormorant dives into the water, catches the fish and brings it back to the boat where the handler grabs the fish.

  • Some cormorant species can reportedly dive to an astounding depth of 150 feet, which makes them some of the deepest diving birds around.

For more information on Double-crested Cormorants and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds and Audubon Society.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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