Tag Archives: cormorants

Balcony Birding: Great Cormorant

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I think the most important quality in a birdwatcher is a willingness to stand quietly and see what comes.

A Great Cormorant perched on a submerged tree in Periyar Sanctuary, Thekkady, Kerala

Most of us must have seen this shag around water bodies and remember it perched on a tree or on the ground with its wings spread for hours together. Who knew that one day I would see them from the comforts of my home. Yes, the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo) made it to the skies that I can see from my balcony.

A gulp of adult and juvenile Great Cormorants | Phalacrocorax Carbo clicked from my balcony

There are three species of cormorants found in India, namely; Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Carbo), Little Cormorant (Microcarbo Niger) and the Indian Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Fuscicollis). Out of them I remember seeing the Great & Indian. I might have seen the Little too but not so sure.

Don’t they make a beautiful sight! The Cormorants flying in the famous V-formation, as seen from the balcony

The species name comes from the Greek words ‘phalakros‘ meaning ‘bald‘ and ‘korax‘ meaning ‘raven‘. The name cormorant is a contraction of the Latin words ‘corvus‘ and ‘marinus‘ which taken together mean ‘sea raven‘.

Balcony Birding: A juvenile Great Cormorant flying across

Cormorant do have oil glands that help keep the feathers waterproof but they are ineffective. While having water resistant feathers protects a bird’s body from getting soaked, this oily coating isn’t great for diving. Thus, a cormorant’s feathers get waterlogged, allowing the bird to sink and dive more efficiently. Once out of water, the cormorants can be seen with their wings spread out to dry.

Captured just before they disappeared behind an apartment tower

Historically, cormorant fishing has taken place in Japan, China, Greece, North Macedonia, and to some extent in England and France. A loop was tied around the cormorant’s throat which allowed it to swallow the smaller fishes only. The bigger ones remained trapped in their bills, which the fishermen would retrieve. This cormorant fishing is called Ukai in Japanese. The most famous location is Gifu (Nagara River) where this practice has been on for more than 1300+ years.

The Great Cormorant juveniles and adults in flight across my balcony

Cormorants are considered to be ancient, from the time of the dinosaurs. In fact, the earliest known modern bird, Gansus Yumenensis, had a similar structure.

An Indian Cormorant or Indian Shag in Keoladeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan

“Everyone loves to fly, and flying underwater is even better than flying in air because there are things around you.”

Great Cormorants are excellent swimmers and pursue prey underwater using its feet rather than its wings. They have been seen swallowing small pebbles for extra weight in order to dive more easily, which they vomit out after feeding.

The disciplined and well synchronized flight of Great Cormorants that I am so used to seeing

The Great Cormorant is also known as the Black Shag in New Zealand and as the Great Black Cormorant across the Northern Hemisphere, the Black Cormorant in Australia, and the Large Cormorant in India.

A Great Cormorant perched atop a submerged tree in Thekkady

Both Indian and Great Cormorants are known to be quite gregarious unlike the Little one. The Indian Cormorants indulge in cooperative fishing; wherein a large number of them gather together in water bodies and round up the prey.

An Indian Cormorant looking for food in Keoladeo Wetland, Rajasthan

Great cormorants are monogamous, with pairs sometimes reuniting in subsequent years. This species breeds at any time, depending on food resources. These birds incubate their eggs with their large webbed feet. The eggs are placed on top of their feet, where they are warmed between their feet and their body.

A nest of Great Cormorants as seen in Periyar Sanctuary, Thekkady, Kerala

 Little CormorantIndian CormorantGreat Cormorant
HeadSmall with rectangular foreheadOval-shaped headLarge and angular head
BeakSmallLong and narrowLarge and thick
Breeding plumageAll darkAll dark with white ear tuftsExtensive white on head, flanks
StructureCompact with long tail, thick neckSlender with long tail and thin neckHeavily built with short tail and thick neck
In FlightTail longer than or same as neck; compactNeck longer than or same as tail; slenderLarge with short tail and neck; broad wings
Juvenile/immaturesPale mottling on underpartsPale from breast down to bellyWhite on breast down till vent
A comparative I came across to help distinguish between the 3 species found in India

Sunning time at Keolodeo Ghana National Park, Rajasthan

There are 36/38 species of cormorants worldwide. They are all fish eaters and live at sea or around inland water bodies.


Do watch out for the next post on another species from my #BalconyBirdingList

Posts shared so far on:
1. Rosy Starlings
2. Alexandrine Parakeet
3. Rose-Ringed Parakeet

4. Plum Headed Parakeet
5. Indian Spot-Billed Duck
6. Yellow-Footed Green Pigeon
7. Black-Winged Stilt
8. Indian Peafowl
9. Indian Purple Sunbird
10. Green Bee-Eater
11. Indian Silverbill
12. Black-Headed Ibis
13. Red-Naped Ibis
14. Glossy Ibis
15. Little Swift
16. Red-Wattled Lapwing
17. Wire-Tailed Swallow
18. Great Cormorant

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The Soul Is Here For It’s Own Joy!
Monika Ohson | TravelerInMe

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