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Haystack Rock


CormorantPhalacrocorax pelagicus

Length: 22 inches
Wingspan: 40 inches
Weight: 3.9 lb (1,800g)

Photo Courtesy of Don Baccus

There are three notable species of cormorant (Brandt's, Double-Crested, Pelagic) distinguishable by their plumage and by the crick in their neck. Although the Pelagic Cormorant appears black from a distance, its plumage is actually dark iridescent violet and green.

The only cormorant that does not nest in dense colonies, Pelagic Cormorants build nests of sticks, moss, seaweed and grass, cemented to the side of cliffs with their won droppings. Generally, one bird gathers nest material while their partner builds the nest. Some nests are maintained by the same pair for a number of years and can be quite substantial - up to 6 feet high! Because the 150 (estimated) nests on the south and seaward sides of Haystack Rock are so exposed, they are relatively small. Nesting pairs protect and incubate three to seven light blue/bluish-white eggs for about four weeks.

Their diet consists primarily of fish caught while diving to depths of 150 feet or more. Unlike the Puffins and Guillemots, the Cormorants don't use their wings underwater. Instead, they propel themselves through the water using only their large webbed feet. A Cormorant's eyes are well adapted for aerial and underwater vision.

Unlike most water birds, Cormorants have wettable plumage. You can see them standing with their wings outstretched in the sun to dry. It was once thought that the degree of waterproofing feathers was due to oil production by the preen gland, now biologists know that it is primarily due to their microscopic structures. Only the Cormorant's outer feathers are wettable; an insulating layer of air next to the skin is maintained when they swim underwater.

In flight, the three main species of Cormorants have an easy identifier: a bend in their neck. Pelagic Cormorants fly with their necks stretched-out straight, Brandt's Cormorants with a slight bend, and Double Crested Cormorants with a pronounced bend.

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