Brandt's Cormorants

by Clark Tate

Living on the Pacific Coast from southeastern Alaska to Baja California, Brandt’s cormorants are common and often found roosting and feeding in flocks with other seabirds and around sea lions. A sleek black bird with a long neck and a dark, hooked bill, it spruces up during breeding season with brilliant turquoise eyes, a cobalt-blue throat pouch trimmed in yellow and thin, white plumes on its face and back.

Most often they are seen sunning, wings spread wide, waiting to dry. These cormorants swim for their supper, and their feathers quickly become waterlogged. This seemingly annoying fact helps to reduce the birds’ natural buoyancy. They use their large webbed feet to dive as deep as 40 feet in pursuit of prey such as herring, rockfish, shrimp, squid and even crabs, sometimes “chasing” prey underwater (see video below).

Breeding grounds stretch between Washington and California, with the most important located in Channel Islands National Park. Brandt’s cormorants often nest at the top of cliffs inhabited by breeding pelagic cormorants or common murres, or on the cliff itself. The male selects a nest site, luring in a female by inflating his cerulean throat pouch and pointing his head and tail to the sky. A cozy nest is built and 3 to 6 pretty blue eggs deposited there. The eggs must be closely guarded from nest-robbing western gulls.

Sturdily built, Brandt’s cormorants weigh approximately 4.6 pounds, are just under 3 feet long and have a wingspan of 4 feet.