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Great Cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo

Length: 36 inches Wingspan: 62 inches Seasonality: Non-resident in South Dakota
ID Keys: Dark plumage overall, yellow chin with white throat behind it, breeding birds have conspicuous white plumage on head

Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo The Great Cormorant is a widespread cormorant species with populations found in not only North America, but also in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa.  Until the latter half of the 20th century, Great Cormorants were very local in the New World, with a small breeding population in select locations in eastern Canada.  In recent decades however, their populations have greatly expanded, and breeding populations can now be found as far south as coastal New England in the United States.  They are very similar in appearance to the Double-crested Cormorant, a species that is widespread in North America.  However, Great Cormorants are significantly larger, have white throat and facial markings that are lacking on Double-crested Cormorants, and also have white feathery plumage on their heads during the breeding season (see photo to the right).


During the breeding season, Great Cormorants are found nesting on rocky cliffs.  In North America, outside of the breeding season they are normally found in shallow coastal ocean waters, and are only rarely found on freshwater close to the coastline.


Feeds mostly on fish, but may occasionally take other items such as crustaceans or marine worms.


Forages by swimming along the ocean's surface, diving underwater and propelling itself with its feet to capture prey. 


The nest of a Great Cormorant is built on a cliff ledge, and is made up of seaweed, sticks and twigs, and finer grasses and vegetation for lining.  The female usually lays between 3 and 5 eggs, and both parents help to incubate them.  Upon hatching, both parents help tend to the young.


Great Cormorants have a grunting call given at breeding colonies, as well as a quieter, hoarser call.  Away from breeding sites, they are usually silent.


 Some birds in their North American range are evidently permanent residents, but others move well south of breeding grounds for the winter, with some reaching as far south as the coastal Carolinas (with sightings as far south as coastal Florida). 

Interactive eBird Map:

Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Great Cormorant sightings

Similar Species:

Given the limited range of the Great Cormorant in North America, there's one cormorant species that is most likely to cause an identification challenge, and that's the much more cosmopolitan (in North America) Double-crested Cormorant. Another cormorant species with expanding numbers and range in North America is the Neotropic Cormorant, a species that could also conceivably be found in some of the same areas Great Cormorants are found. Three other North American Cormorant Species are found near the Pacific coast of North America and thus aren't likely to ever cross paths with a Great Cormorant (Pelagic Cormorant, Brandt's Cormorant, and Red-faced Cormorant).

Double-crested Cormorant 2 - Phalacrocorax auritus Double-crested Cormorant 20 - Phalacrocorax auritus Neotropic Cormorant 3- Phalacrocorax brasilianus Neotropic Cormorant 1 - Phalacrocorax brasilianus
Double-crested Cormorant Double-crested Cormorant Pelagic Cormorant Pelagic Cormorant


Conservation Status:

Populations of the Great Cormorant are very widespread across the Eastern Hemisphere, with indications that numbers are currently on the upswing. In North America, the range is much more limited along the Atlantic Coast, but systematic surveys there too show modest increases in numbers in the last few decades. Overall, global populations are found across an extremely broad geographic range, they are common in parts of that range, and overall populations are very strong. The IUCN lists the Great Cormorant as a species of "Least Concern."

Further Information:

 Photo Information:

This (gorgeous!) photo taken by Andy Li - Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution NoDerivs Generic 2.0 License.

Audio File Credits:

Click below for a higher-resolution map
Great Cormorant - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Non-resident in South Dakota

Additional Great Cormorant Photos
 Great Cormorant 1 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 2 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 3 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 4 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 5 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 6 - Phalacrocorax carboGreat Cormorant 7 - Phalacrocorax carbo