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Uncovering the Fascinating Behaviors of Double-Crested Cormorants: From Agonistic Displays to Territorial Breeding

The Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) is a large waterbird found throughout North America. With a wingspan of up to six feet and a sleek black plumage, these birds are easily recognizable.

In this article, we will delve deeper into the identification, plumages and molts of this fascinating species.


When it comes to identifying Double-crested Cormorants, their size, shape and plumage are key features to consider. They are large, slender birds with long necks and a wingspan of around five to six feet.

Their bill is relatively long and hooked, and their legs are set back on their body to help them swim more efficiently. They have webbed feet, which is a characteristic of birds that spend a lot of time in the water.

Adult Double-crested Cormorants have sleek black feathers on their bodies, wings, and tail. They have a white patch of feathers on their chin and throat, which is only visible during breeding season.

The eyes of these birds are light blue, and they appear to be slightly crossed. Juvenile Double-crested Cormorants are brownish-black in color with a lighter underbelly.

They also have a whitish or buffy throat.

Similar Species

Despite their unique characteristics, Double-crested Cormorants can sometimes be confused with other water birds, such as the Anhinga and the American White Pelican. Anhingas have longer, thinner bills and a more slender neck compared to Double-crested Cormorants.

Their plumage is mostly brownish-black, and they lack the white patch on their throat. American White Pelicans have a broad, flat bill, a mostly white plumage, and a distinct yellow-orange bill pouch.

They are also significantly larger than Double-crested Cormorants.


Double-crested Cormorants go through different stages of plumage during their lifetime. These stages are referred to as molts, and there are three main molts that these birds undergo.

The first molt occurs during the first year of their life when they transition from their natal plumage to the juvenile plumage. The juvenile plumage is mostly dark brown with a lighter underbelly.

The second molt occurs during their second year, and they begin to grow their adult feathers during this time. The first adult feather to appear is usually the white throat patch.

The third molt occurs during the third year when they acquire their full adult plumage.


Molting is the process of replacing feathers, which occurs annually in birds. During the molting process, a bird sheds its old feathers and grows new ones.

For Double-crested Cormorants, molting occurs twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall. During the molting process, Double-crested Cormorants may appear more difficult to identify as they may have mixed plumage.

For example, during the fall molt, a bird may have a mix of adult and juvenile feathers. This is because the molting process may take several weeks, during which the bird may be in transition between plumages.


In conclusion, the Double-crested Cormorant is a fascinating water bird that can be identified by its size, shape, and plumage. Their unique characteristics make them easy to spot, but they can also be confused with other water birds.

Through their molting process, these birds go through various stages of plumage, making them even more interesting to observe. Next time you see a Double-crested Cormorant, take a moment to appreciate their beauty and unique characteristics.

The Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) is a widespread water bird species that can be found throughout North America, as well as in parts of Central and South America. In this expansion, we will delve into the systematics history of the Double-crested Cormorant, including its geographic variation, subspecies, related species, and historical changes to its distribution.

Systematics History

The Double-crested Cormorant was first described by Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1766. Since then, the taxonomy of this species has undergone several changes.

Previously, they were placed in the genus Phalacrocorax with other cormorant species. However, based on molecular studies, they were moved to the genus Nannopterum along with the Neotropic Cormorant (Nannopterum brasilianus).

Geographic Variation

Like many bird species, the Double-crested Cormorant shows geographic variation in terms of their physical characteristics. The size and coloration of these cormorants vary between populations in different regions.

For example, cormorants living in southern regions tend to be larger in size than those in the northern areas. Along with size differences, cormorants living in the Atlantic and Pacific Coastal regions tend to have a longer bill than those in the interior regions.


Based on these geographical variations, the Double-crested Cormorant has been divided into several subspecies, including:

1. Nannopterum auritum auritum – found in the eastern and central parts of North America


Nannopterum auritum carbo – found in western North America

3. Nannopterum auritum cincinatum – found along the Pacific Northwest coast


Nannopterum auritum floridanum – found in Florida and parts of the southeastern United States

5. Nannopterum auritum ssp.

– found in the Caribbean and Central and South America

Related Species

The Double-crested Cormorant is part of the family Phalacrocoracidae, which includes other cormorant species such as the Great Cormorant and the Neotropic Cormorant. The Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) is one of the closest relatives of the Double-crested Cormorant and many factors differ in size and morphology from the Double-crested Cormorant.

The Great Cormorant is larger, has a longer bill, and has white feather tufts on its head during breeding season.

Historical Changes to Distribution

Historically, the Double-crested Cormorant was widespread throughout North America, but their distribution has changed over time. In the early 20th century, the Double-crested Cormorant population was nearly wiped out due to unregulated hunting, egg collection, and habitat loss.

During this time, their range was limited to just a few nesting sites in the Great Lakes region. However, with the implementation of hunting regulations and conservation efforts, the Double-crested Cormorant population has rebounded.

Their range has expanded to include nesting colonies in coastal regions along the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as inland bodies of water such as the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and other large rivers in the United States. In recent years, Double-crested Cormorants have become a controversial species, particularly in the Great Lakes region.

In the early 21st century, some anglers and local officials argued that the Double-crested Cormorant was responsible for the decline in fish populations in the Great Lakes. This led to the culling of thousands of cormorants by federal and state wildlife agencies.

However, scientific studies have shown that cormorants are only a minor factor in the decline of fish populations and that other factors such as invasive species and pollution are the primary causes.


Overall, the Double-crested Cormorant is a resilient water bird species that has rebounded from near extinction due to hunting and habitat loss in the early 20th century. Its geographical variation, subspecies, and related species make it a fascinating subject for study.

While its population has increased in recent years, the Double-crested Cormorant remains controversial in some areas due to its perceived impact on fish populations. The Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) is a water bird that is found in a variety of habitats, including lakes, rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas.

In this expansion, we will delve into the habitat, movements, and migration of the Double-crested Cormorant.


The Double-crested Cormorant is a highly adaptable species, and as such, can be found in a variety of freshwater and saltwater habitats across North America. They are particularly abundant in areas where water is shallow and food is abundant.

Their preferred habitats include large lakes, reservoirs, rivers, and estuaries. Cormorants also inhabit coastal areas such as harbors, bays, and beaches.

Double-crested Cormorants are not restricted to living in just one type of habitat. Many populations move seasonally to different areas with different habitat types to take advantage of food and breeding conditions.

During the breeding season, Double-crested Cormorants prefer nesting in trees or on islands in freshwater habitats. However, during the non-breeding season, they move to coastal areas and estuaries where they feed on fish, crustaceans, and other marine organisms.

Movements and Migration

The movements of Double-crested Cormorants vary depending on the time of year and geographic location. During the breeding season, they are generally sedentary, nesting in colonies near their preferred freshwater habitats.

However, outside of the breeding season, Double-crested Cormorants can be highly migratory, moving long distances in search of better feeding grounds. In the fall, cormorants from more northern breeding grounds will often move southward towards warmer areas in search of food.

These birds typically stay in the southern regions for the winter months before returning to their breeding grounds in the spring. Along the Pacific coast, Double-crested Cormorants have been observed moving to locations up and down the west coast as food resources change in different areas.

It is important to note that not all Double-crested Cormorants migrate long distances. Some populations are year-round residents in certain areas, while others make shorter migrations within the same geographic region.

For example, some cormorants will move from inland areas to coastal areas for the winter months. Double-crested Cormorants are strong fliers, capable of traveling long distances without stopping.

During migration, they often fly in large, V-shaped flocks, following major migratory flyways along coastlines and major waterways. Environmental factors play a significant role in the movements and migration of Double-crested Cormorants.

Changes in water levels, water temperature, and food availability can all influence the movements of these birds. Additionally, changes in weather patterns, storm systems, and air currents can impact the timing and success of migratory journeys.


In summary, Double-crested Cormorants are highly adaptable birds that can be found in a variety of freshwater and saltwater habitats across North America. Their movements and migration patterns are influenced by environmental factors such as food availability and weather patterns.

While some populations are year-round residents in certain areas, others undertake long-distance migrations in search of better feeding grounds. Understanding the habitat preferences and movements of Double-crested Cormorants is important for conservation efforts and the management of these birds.

The Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) is a water bird species that is known for its distinctive looks, but there’s much more to learn about these fascinating creatures. In this expansion, we will delve into the diet and foraging behavior of the Double-crested Cormorant, as well as their sounds and vocal behavior.

Diet and Foraging

The Double-crested Cormorant feeds primarily on fish, but they will also eat crustaceans, mollusks, and other small aquatic animals. Their diet can vary depending on their geographic location and the time of year.

They are opportunistic feeders and will consume whatever prey is available in their habitat.


Double-crested Cormorants forage by diving for their prey. They are excellent swimmers and are able to remain submerged for up to a minute while hunting.

Their swimming and diving technique is efficient and well-adapted for pursuing prey in a highly aquatic environment. They use their webbed feet to propel themselves through the water while using their wings for additional propulsion and steering.

When feeding, Double-crested Cormorants will typically swallow their prey whole. They have a long, slender, hooked bill, which they use to catch and hold onto their prey.

Cormorants do not have a crop and therefore have to digest their food quickly. They will often regurgitate pellets of undigested material which consist mainly of fish bones and scales.


The Double-crested Cormorant has a diverse diet and will eat whatever prey is available in their habitat. They tend to prefer small and medium-sized fish such as perch, bass, and trout, but will also eat larger fish if they are available.

Other prey items include crayfish, crabs, shrimps, and even small turtles or birds. Their diet varies depending on the time of year and geographic region.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Double-crested Cormorant has adapted to its aquatic lifestyle by having a high metabolism and unique temperature regulation mechanisms to maintain internal temperature while hunting and swimming. Cormorants have dense feathers and no oil glands, which allows them to become completely waterlogged to dive more efficiently.

However, it also means they require a substantial amount of energy to dry their feathers once out of the water. Their high metabolism allows them to quickly digest food while maintaining a body temperature that is higher than that of the surrounding water.

This helps to keep their muscles warm and allows them to dive for extended periods while hunting for prey underwater.

Sounds and Vocal


The Double-crested Cormorant has a range of vocalizations used for communication and social behavior. Their vocalizations consist of a series of harsh, guttural croaks and grunts that can be heard from a distance.


Cormorants use vocalizations primarily as a form of communication and social behavior. They use different calls to signal aggression, courtship, and territoriality.

For example, during courtship, a male may perform a ritualized display while making calls to impress a female. Likewise, aggressive or territorial behavior can be accompanied by vocal displays to intimidate other birds of the same species.


In conclusion, the Double-crested Cormorant is a fascinating water bird with unique adaptations for their aquatic lifestyle. Their diet is varied and includes fish, crustaceans, and other small aquatic animals.

When hunting for prey, Double-crested Cormorants dive for extended periods and use their unique anatomical and physiological adaptations to maintain internal temperature and digest their food quickly. Their vocalizations are also an important form of communication and social behavior, which they use to signal aggression, courtship and territoriality.

Understanding the vocal and feeding behavior of Double-crested Cormorants can help researchers better understand and protect this species. The Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) is a fascinating water bird species that engages in a variety of behaviors throughout their life cycle.

In this expansion, we will delve into the locomotion, self-maintenance, agonistic and sexual behaviors of the Double-crested Cormorant, as well as their breeding habits and demography and populations.



Double-crested Cormorants are highly adapted to swimming and diving underwater, and their swimming technique is efficient for pursuing prey in water environments. They use their webbed feet to move through the water while using their wings to provide additional propulsion and steering.

On land, they are less agile and can be seen waddling or hopping on their feet and wings. Self-Maintenance:

Double-crested Cormorant performs self-maintenance behaviors by preening their feathers for hours a day.

Preening maintains the condition of their feathers, allowing them to remain waterproof and able to regulate their body temperature. They may also frequently yawn, stretch wings, and expose their underwing to the sun to dry out and disinfect their wings.



Double-crested Cormorant have a territorial nature and will defend their nesting site and feeding grounds. Agonistic behavior can include head-turning, bill-bowing, and bill-snapping.

They may also enhance their visual appearance through various displays of plumage, specifically the eyebrow tufts that are raised or lowered to signal aggression or submission. Sexual


During breeding season, males of the Double-crested Cormorant establish territories and engage in courtship displays to attract a female.

These displays may include wing-beating or bill-snapping while making various vocalizations. Once pairs form, the male and female will engage in nest building, mating, and incubate their eggs together.


Double-crested Cormorants tend to breed in colonies of several pairs, with individuals returning to the same colony each year.

Breeding occurs from April to August, depending on their location.

When breeding, they establish territories on islands or on a platform built from sticks in trees, which can be up to 90 feet above the ground. The female will lay an average of three to four eggs, which are incubated by both parents for about 25 days.

After hatching, the chicks are brooded and fed by both parents. Chicks fledge between six to eight weeks after hatching and will remain with their parents for another period

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