by

Larry Czajkoski

The Double-crested Cormorant is a large black gooselike bird, with short legs, feet webbed between all the toes, long neck, and stout beak tipped with a very sharp, and doubtless very useful, hook.  The Cormorant’s bright orange throat pouch stands out on its otherwise black body.  The “crest” consists of some curly filaments above and back of each eye.  Often, the somewhat snakelike black neck and head is all that betrays the presence of a swimming double-crested cormorant.  They soak their plumage to reduce buoyancy before sinking underwater in search of prey.  Their webbed feet propel them through the water enabling them to capture the fish upon which they prey by diving and out swimming them in their own element.

Most double-crested cormorant populations are migratory, and these birds turn up at rivers, marshes, swamps, large lakes, bays, and along the coast.  I photographed this beautiful bird in winter time while it perched on a dead tree in a fresh-water marsh in Florida.  For the most part, this water bird breeds in western Alaska, central Canada, and down both coasts of the US.  In general, they winter along the coast and well inland throughout the Southeast (and North Carolina) and are most numerous here in Lake Lure during late fall, winter, and early spring.   

Watch for the “periscope” heads of partially submerged cormorants as they troll for snacks.

 After long swims, cormorants often sun themselves eerily on dead trees and shoreline, holding out their wings to dry.  Their common name comes from the Latin corvus marinus, meaning “raven of the sea.”  Even historic literature captures the eerie essence of the cormorant in John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost writing about the cormorant perched on the Tree of Life, in a not so flattering reference.  But fear not, for the Cormorant is one of God’s beautiful creatures that blesses us here with its presence on Lake Lure for all to enjoy.