Living Bird Magazine
Pelagic CormorantPhalacrocorax pelagicus
- ORDER: Suliformes
- FAMILY: Phalacrocoracidae
Among the cormorants of North America’s Pacific Coast, the Pelagic is a small and slender species that flies with a thin, straight neck often compared to a broomstick. Breeding adults are black with glossy purple-green highlights. They have a coral-red throat patch and neat white patches on the flanks. They nest on coastal cliffs and forage in rocky water, rarely traveling far from shore despite their name. Unlike Brandt’s and Double-crested, Pelagic Cormorants are not very gregarious and are usually seen as single birds or pairs.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Pelagic Cormorants are widespread along the Pacific coast and often occur with Brandt’s and Double-crested, where they are usually the least numerous of the three species. Look for Pelagic’s much thinner neck (straight in flight), slighter bill, narrower wings, and rather long tail. To find them, patiently watch the ocean as cormorants move from roosting to foraging areas, studying differences in size and shape between the three species. During the breeding season, Pelagic Cormorants often nest on cliffs quite close to coastal roads and paths, allowing close views.
- Cormorán Pelágico (Spanish)
- Cormoran pélagique (French)
- Cool Facts
- “Pelagic” means “of the open ocean”—and it’s not a good description for this species. Pelagic Cormorants are rarely seen more than a few miles from land.
- Pelagic Cormorants can hold their breath for 2 minutes and dive as deep as 138 feet to catch fish.
- Pelagic Cormorants inhabit the same places and feed on many of the same fish species as Pigeon Guillemots. Despite the almost complete overlap in diet and habitat, the cormorants take larger individual fish than the guillemots and thus do not compete directly with them.
- The three widespread species of Pacific cormorants—Double-crested, Brandt’s, and Pelagic—all forage near each other, so do they compete with one another for food? Careful research in California demonstrated that Pelagic Cormorants forage in rocky waters, Brandt's forages more in the water column above the rocks, and Double-crested Cormorants select waters over flat or sandy bottoms.
- The Pelagic Cormorant uses its own guano (feces) to solidify its nest materials and to cement its nest to the cliff face.
- The Pelagic Cormorant is among the least gregarious or social of the cormorants, nesting on steep cliffs along rocky and exposed shorelines.
- The oldest recorded Pelagic Cormorant was at least 17 years, 10 months old when it was found in British Columbia.