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

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Monday, March 7, 2022

Loch Ness?

Double-crested Cormorant is the only cormorant species in the Northwest often found around freshwater. It is also the only avian species on Union Bay that will sit for long periods with its wings fully extended.

Apparently, they have less preening oil than other aquatic birds, so they must work harder to dry their feathers. On the other hand, their totally soaked feathers may retain less air and enable faster maneuvering underwater, which is a handy skill for a piscivore.

They are also very social and can often be found log-lounging with fairly consistent intervals between them. The spacing is not accidental. 

The bird on the far right with the light neck and chest is immature. It most likely hatched out during the year this December photo was taken.

Here is the same group a few moments earlier. With threats and vocalizations, they worked out the "pecking order" and the distance between perches. It does seem like the more mature birds often prefer the higher and drier positions.

Here is another example that reinforces the idea. The two birds in the most elevated positions have very dark feathers, indicating maturity, while the three younger birds, with lighter-colored neck feathers, have the three lowest positions. 

Cormorants are not always found in groups. Although, if you watch a single bird long enough it will usually return to the collective. They seem to go their separate ways primarily while looking for food. 

Being very efficient hunters apparently enables them to spend a major portion of their  lives sitting in the sun and watching-the-world-go-by. It is not surprising that one name for a flock of cormorants is a sunning.

Notice the wide web feet on short legs which are positioned near the rear of the body. 

Their propulsion system is so efficient that even when they are near the surface they often paddle about with only their head and neck above the water, unlike most aquatic birds. 

I am not sure whether our River Otters (Click Here to see more) or our Double-crested Cormorants are the closest creatures we have to Loch Ness Monsters?

Once captured, a fish can struggle and flip its tail but they are unlikely to escape after a Cormorant closes its serrated bill on their slippery flesh.

A Cormorant's most striking feature is probably its bright green eyes. Cormorants also have one other striking feature, which is often hidden, but still must be included in this discussion.

The expansion of the neck as it swallows the fish is also noteworthy.

In this photo, without a fish, the normal neck size is considerably smaller.

This week while watching Duck Bay, I saw a sudden disturbance break the surface of the water.

I noticed it was a Cormorant with the head of a large fish in its mouth.

The fish was so large I was uncertain whether the Cormorant could lift its own head while holding the fish.

With a smaller fish, a Cormorant will often toss it into the air to position it for a final head-first dive into the belly of the bird. This time the Cormorant twisted and turned in the water for quite some time, without any apparent progress. 

I was starting to suspect that the Cormorant would have to give up and abandon the fish. 

I wonder if overly ambitious Cormorants ever get a fish stuck in their throats? With nature, there is always something to keep us wondering. For example, you may be wondering where are the crests mentioned in the Cormorant's name? 

This is a timely question. The crests generally begin to appear during the breeding season. If you look closely (binoculars are helpful) during March and April, you will probably see that some of our adult cormorants have two black crests similar to the bird in this photo. 

Most are black, however, a few of their crests are white. Apparently, among the Double-crested Cormorants in Alaska, white crests are normal. 

The migration patterns of Double-crested Cormorants are also interesting. They are often year-round residents, along the West Coast, from Alaska to Mexico, and also in Florida. There is another portion of the population that is especially migratory. They nest in central southern Canada and the Dakotas. These birds primarily fly south towards the Gulf Coast in Winter. Click Here to see a dynamic abundance map that displays their annual migrations.

Both adult males and females can have crests in Spring, although among males they are typically larger.

Occasionally they have additional feathers, called plumes, scattered about in other areas of their bodies. These feathers are most obvious when they are white.

Here is an example of an adult with a white crests and an immature bird with no crest at all.

I have not seen Cormorants nesting near Union Bay. However, I have watched them gather nesting material in Spring. 

Maybe the issue is a lack of safe nest sites. I have read that they often nest on islands. However, on Union Bay, all of our year-round islands are close enough to shore that they are easily reached by raccoons. (As demonstrated in the Save Our Swans post).

You may be wondering what happened to the Cormorant with the very large fish.

It turned out it was able to open its expandable mouth and at least partially lift its head while holding the fish. In Birds of the World, I found this reference. (The) "Wide jaw-opening is facilitated by nasal-frontal hinge at junction with cranium." Unfortunately, I have not yet secured a photograph that clearly illustrates this capability.
In fact, in this case it appeared like the fish may have bypassed the nasal hinge via the left side of the cormorant's mouth. 

In either case, we can clearly see that the neck is distended to over twice its normal width. The Cormorant apparently knew what size of fish it could handle.

Afterward, it did not even try to fly. It paddled over to the west side of Duck Bay and found a branch sticking out of the water. It carefully climbed up to an elevated perch and began drying its wings. I suspect it sat in the same spot for a very long time while digesting the meal.

Their other striking feature, beside their green eyes, is a bright blue mouth during breeding season. I suspect this is used to attract a mate. I am not certain if this would work for humans but I suspect it might get a lot of attention.

Have a great day on Union Bay...where nature lives in the city and Black Birders are welcome!


Recommended Citation

Dorr, B. S., J. J. Hatch, and D. V. Weseloh (2021). Double-crested Cormorant(Nannopterum auritum), version 1.1. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.doccor.01.1

Going Native:

Each of us, who breathe the air and drink the local water, needs to watch and protect our local environment. Native plants and trees encourage the largest diversity of lifeforms because of their long intertwined history with our local environment and native creatures. I have been told that even the microbes in the soil are native to each local landscape. I hope we can inspire ourselves, our neighbors, and local businesses to respect native flora and to support native wildlife at every opportunity. I have learned that our most logical approach to native trees and plants (in order of priority) should be to:

1) Learn and leave established native flora undisturbed.
2) Remove invasive species and then wait to see if native plants begin to grow without assistance. (When native plants start on their own, then these plants or trees are likely the most appropriate flora for the habitat.)
3) Scatter seeds from nearby native plants in a similar habitat.
4) If you feel you must add a new plant then select a native plant while considering how the plant fits with the specific habitat and understanding the plant's logical place in the normal succession of native plants. 




My friend Elaine Chuang shared several resources (that were new to me) from the January Washington Ornithological Society meeting. The major new concept is that specific keystone native plants enable critical moths and caterpillars that in turn provide food for the great majority of birds, especially during the breeding season. Here are the top two links from her list.

Native Keystone Plants for Wildlife:


Resources for adding plants to your Pacific Northwest Garden:



Click Here to access a King County publication that explains the best placement for a wide variety of native plants. It looks quite helpful.

Also, my friend Tom Brown pointed out that the application named 'Wildflower Search' is very helpful. Click on the highlighted link to see for yourself.

Also, Jane Lundin has created a small package, with a lot of critical information that looks quite handy, and light, for backpacking in the mountains in Springtime. It is titled, Mountain Wildflowers of Washington.)

Another idea that integrates perfectly with living in harmony with nature is the concept of Forest Gardening. Native Americans collected and nurtured dense multi-layered gardens of native herbs, plants, shrubs, and trees that produced food and herbal medicines. Even after 150 years of no maintenance, the gardens are essentially intact and the diversity of life remains significantly higher than in the surrounding forests. Click Here to learn more.


In the area below it is my intention to display at least one photo each week to help challenge us to know the difference between native and non-native lifeforms. 

Is this a native plant? If so, which one?

Scroll down for the answer.


Oregon Grape: Yes, it is native. Because of the thorny shape of the leaf, it might easily be mistaken for invasive holly. Let's compare:

The holly leaves connect to a green stem and they are offset i.e. not directly opposed to each other. 

In the case of Oregon Grape, the inner leaflets are directly opposite each other and are often connected via a reddish stem. (Technically, with Oregon Grape the complete stem and all the attached leaflets are considered a single leaf.)

As mentioned above, native plants are more likely to be utilized by native insects and birds and can help create a flourishing yard full of life.


The Email Challenge:

Over the years, I have had many readers tell me that Google is no longer sending them email announcements. As of 2021,
 Google has discontinued the service.

In response, I have set up my own email list. With each post, I will manually send out an announcement. If you would like to be added to my personal email list please send me an email requesting to be added. Something like:

                Larry, I want to see more of nature. Please add me to your personal email list. 

Thank you for your patience and interest!

My email address is:  



The Comment Challenge:

Another common issue is losing your input while attempting to leave a comment on this blog. Often everything functions fine, however, sometimes people are unable to make it past the 
robot-detection challenge or maybe it is the lack of a Google account. I am uncertain about the precise issue. Sadly, a person can lose their comment with no recovery recourse. 

Bottom Line: 

If you write a long comment, please, copy it before hitting enter. Then, if the comment function fails to record your information, you can send the comment directly to me using email.

My email address is:  




Final Photos:


  1. In Asia fishermen put a ring around the neck of a Cormorant they keep for the purpose, who hunts for them--it will catch a large fish and try to swallow but the fish doesn't get past the ring. The bird is on a long lanyard and is guided back to the boat, where the caught fish is removed and the bird rewarded with many smaller fish comparable to bait fish used by conventional fishermen. The birds seem well adapted to the routine and are well cared for.

    1. I had heard about this captive use but I guess I always assumed it happened in the past. Do you know if it is ongoing behavior?

    2. Yes-see link https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/ukai-comorant-fishing-japan-news. I think it is still current in other countries as well.

    3. Jerry, Thank you for the link! Very Interesting! Larry

  2. When my parents were alive and living in Florida, on visits to them I would often see the Florida variation, the Anhinga,similarly drying its wings https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Anhinga/id

    1. That is interesting. They certainly seem like a very similar type bird.

  3. Until I looked it up for the initial comment, I thought they were the same bird with a different local name.

    1. I bet their common ancestor was not to far back. :-)

  4. You can find a companion photo on the West Seattle Blog here, https://westseattleblog.com/2022/03/west-seattle-wednesday-whats-up-for-the-rest-of-today-tonight/

  5. Thank you again Larry for being such a good person and observer.
    My photos are poorly organized so I did not find the local fisherman (Eastern China, 2010) with the ringed cormaorant. They both balanced on a very narrow bamboo dugout on a calm river. The cormorant was allowed to swallow about every fourth (small) fish.