Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Harmony With Nature

Double-crested cormorants are not the most beautiful or iconic birds. They do not stir the heart like a bald eagle in-flight or a baby owl covered in white fuzz.

In fact, you might even call them ugly.

Their most becoming feature may be their bright green eyes.

Cormorants are beautifully adapted for fishing. Their webbed feet propel them underwater, the hooked bill tightly holds their slippery prey, and their dark color allows them to disappear like a shadow below the surface. Their dark color also helps them retain heat and dry off when they leave the water. I suspect their bright green eyes provide superior underwater vision.

This week, a Seattle Times article said the shooting of cormorants at the mouth of the Columbia River has begun. This is not a surprise if you read last year's post which was inspired by Harvey who came to Union Bay from East Sand Island. The killing of cormorants is intended to help save the dwindling salmon population. Experts quoted in the article question whether the shooting will actually help the salmon recover.

This week I watched two cormorants squabbling about their seating assignments on the light poles at the University of Washington near Union Bay. Their disagreement seemed rather petty. There were plenty of light poles to go around. It reminded me that there should also be plenty of salmon to go around.

I am always impressed by how the cormorants can expand their lower jaw. It looks like a miniature version of a pelican's pouch. I have only seen it used for intimidation, but I wonder if the expansion allows them to swallow fish that would otherwise be too large.

Lately, I have been pondering what it would mean for humanity to be in harmony with nature. In music, harmony is a pleasant and dynamic blending of efforts to achieve a common goal. 

Antonyms for harmony include words like discord, hatred and fighting. Shooting cormorants, even to save juvenile salmon, does not qualify as harmonious. Not only are we destroying native creatures, which are behaving in a perfectly natural way, but we are also creating discord among ourselves.

In a harmonious world there would once again be an abundance of salmon. We would have no need to quibble with cormorants or sea lions about their percentage of the take. It seems ironic that we are killing native creatures when we are the ones who have decimated the wild salmon runs with obstructing dams and the disruption of spawning streams. 

We have other options. Last year, in Eastern Washington and Canada, there was a dramatic increase of wild salmon. In previous years, a number of groups worked together to time the flow of water over multiple dams to help young salmon survive to reach the ocean. The result was an abundant return of salmon in 2014. Click Here, to read more about their efforts.

The fact that the cormorants are consuming a statistically relevant portion of young salmon is just a symptom. Trying to solve our upstream problems by shooting downstream symptoms, is at a best a distraction from the real issues.

We need to help the wild salmon overcome the barriers we have created. When salmon runs return to historic levels, the eagles, bears, cormorants, sea lions, orcas and even the forests will flourish. Possibly just as important, flourishing salmon will restore our own hope in the future. Restoring spawning sites, paying close attention to the salmon and timing water flows are logical first steps towards becoming a society in harmony with nature.

Salmon are not just an icon, they are the fundamental linchpin of our Northwest web of life. If you would like to learn more about our challenges and opportunities I suggest reading, "Salmon, People and Place  - A Biologist's Search For Salmon Recovery",  by Jim Lichatowich.

I would love to see us fill up the comments section with changes we can make to help the salmon. If you find it easier to just email suggestions, I will post them to the comments section with your first name. My email address is: ldhubbell@comcast.net

Have a great day on Union Bay!


A Union Bay Update:

I believe this is a juvenile, Greater White-fronted Goose. It has been hanging around Union Bay all week. I first saw it on the water between Foster and Marsh Islands on Tuesday, and then everyday since on Oak Point, just west of Duck Bay. Hopefully local dog owners will keep their dogs leashed, as this beautiful young bird is still learning how to be shy.

According to my Sibley guide a Greater White-fronted Goose is a rare bird for our area. Plus, domesticated Greylags are often mistaken for Greater White-fronted Geese. However, the coloring of the legs, plus the more delicate nature of this bird's neck and belly led me, and a local master birder, to believe it is a Greater White-fronted Goose. I am curious how long the bird will stay in our area.


  1. I think cormorants are really quite fascinating to look at. Those eyes always entrance me.

    1. The green color is unusually bright. Off the top of my head I cannot think of any other bird with similar eyes. :-)