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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 carboThe 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).

Habitat: 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.

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

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

Nesting: 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.

Song: Has a grunting call given at breeding colonies, as well as a quieter, hoarser call.  Away from breeding sites, they are usually silent.

Migration: 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. 

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

Similar Species: In range, most likely to be confused with the Double-crested Cormorant.

Conservation Status: Populations of the Great Cormorant are very widespread across the Old World, and are increasing in North America.  The IUCN lists the Great Cormorant as a species of "Least Concern."

Further Information: 1) Audubon Guide - Great Cormorant

2) Audubon Guide - Great Cormorant

3) WhatBird - Great Cormorant

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


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

Additional Great Cormorant Photos (coming soon!!)