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Cormorants

Cormorants, Point Bonita

There is no consistent difference between cormorants and shags (Austin Powers fans, clear your minds :-) ). The Family Phalacrocoracidae includes 40 species of comorants and shags. Cormorants and shags are medium-to-large coastal (rather than oceanic) seabirds. The photo above was taken of cormorants at Point Bonita, but you can also see them in many other places, including the electrical towers in San Francisco Bay near Highway 92 on the San Mateo Bridge (please do not become too absorbed in the birdwatching :-) ). The birds range all over the world, except for the central Pacific islands.

All species are fish-eaters and also eat small eels and water snakes. The birds dive from the surface and use their feet to swim underwater. Some cormorants have been tracked on depth gauges as deep as 147.6 feet (45 m). After fishing, cormorants dry their wings in the sun, since their feathers lack the waterproofing common in most seabirds. Cormorants nest in colonies in trees, rocky islets, and cliffs. There is typically only one brood each year, and the young cormorants are fed by regurgitation.

Cormorants are apparently an ancient group of birds, with similar ancestors as far back as the time of the dinosaurs. HIstorically, humans in China and Japan have exploited the fishing ability of the cormorant by tying the throat of birds so that they could swallow only small fish. When the birds returned to the surface with larger fish in their throats, the fishermen would remove them. In Japan, cormorant fishing is called ukai.

The taxonomy of cormorants is apparently a subject of intense academic debate and is discussed in the Wikipedia article.

As for me, I am just as happy to photograph them.

-Bill at Cheshire Cat Photo™

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