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New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion: Double-Crested Cormorant

This post is an excerpt from the New York City Birdwatcher’s Companion.

NYC Double-crested cormorant

Natural History
The double-crested cormorant is a fish-eating waterbird and a relative of the frigatebird. The cormorant nests in waterfront colonies. Females are responsible for building the nest on dead trees, while males source the material, typically sticks and driftwood. Double-crested cormorants are shiny and black, with orange chins, aquamarine eyes, and a hooked beak. The inside of the mouth is bright blue. Cormorants only enter the water to feed and bathe. To make diving easier, they saturate their feathers with water, but frequently return to shore to spread their wings and dry out.

Urban History
Double-crested cormorants frequent the rivers of New York City and nest on manmade islands. Construction of the Steinway Tunnels cleared room for the 7 train to Queens, and formed the artificial ‘U Thant’ island near the UN headquarters. This plot of landfill now hosts a colony of cormorants that dive along the East River. Another cormorant nesting ground can be found farther north on the East River, on Mill Rock island. After the ban of DDT pesticide in 1972, cormorant populations rebounded and became a familiar animal in the urban fabric. This species is bicoastal, found on the Bay Bridge connecting Oakland and San Francisco. The construction firm Caltrans unsuccessfully attempted to relocate the colony, laying sailcloth to prevent nesting on the old bridge.

NYC double-crested cormorant

Identification Tips
– Dark body with orange around bill
– Often found on open water
– Elongated neck


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