The cormorant is a large and conspicuous water bird that can live in either marine or freshwater habitats. It has an almost primitive appearance with a long thick neck that makes it appear almost reptilian. Adult cormorants look black at a distance, but on closer inspection feathers have a green-blue sheen. The bill is strong with a sharp hook at its end. In summer, adults show white patches on their face and a circular white patch on their flanks. Immature birds are dark brown and have a white belly particularly in their first year.
Cormorants are generally sociable birds that nest in colonies, gather in flocks and often hunt together in groups. They catch fish by diving up to 10m from the surface, chasing their prey under water and seizing it with the hooked bill. After diving for food, the cormorant will find a perch close to their feeding areas and sit with wings outstretched. It is thought that they do this to dry their plumage. When swimming, the cormorant’s body is low in the water with the head pointing upwards. Diving cormorants can be distinguished from the similar dives of loons by the little ‘leap’ they take before diving.
- Length 80-94cm
- Wingspan 121-160cm
- Weight: 2-2.5kg
- Average Lifespan: 11-20 years
Classified in the UK as Green under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015). Protected by The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.
Cormorants breed in colonies and in Scotland are primarily found on the coast where they build simple nests on the ground. They tend to overwinter on Northerly coasts.
After birth, most populations disperse, and in Scotland overwinter on coasts or on estuaries, though they can also be found along larger rivers, such as the Clyde, Tweed and Spey and on lochs.
When to see
All year round.
- The sub-species of cormorant most commonly seen in Scotland is Phalacrocorax carbo carbo the ‘Great cormorant’ or ‘Atlantic great cormorant’. It is the largest of all living cormorant species in Europe. However, a rarer, but an increasingly frequent visitor to Scotland is the continental great cormorant or sub-species Phalacrocorax carbo sinensis.
- At least 40% of birds leaving the nest, die in their first year and this can reach as much as 65%. Starvation and exhaustion are the most frequent reasons for premature deaths.
- The cormorant is probably now more frequent and widespread in Europe than at any time in the last 150 years; the current population trend is considered as ‘Increasing’.