Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Pelagic Cormorant

Phalacrocorax pelagicus

The smallest cormorant of the Pacific Coast. May be solitary in its feeding but gregarious at other times, with groups perching together on rocks near water, holding wings out to dry. During the nesting season, even non-breeding individuals come to roost at night around the edges of nesting colonies, but colonies are often smaller than those of its relatives. Often more shy and harder to approach than other cormorants.
Conservation status Numbers probably stable. Reportedly increased in coastal British Columbia during the 20th century. North American population in 1980s estimated at over 120,000, with close to three-quarters of those in Alaska.
Family Cormorants
Habitat Coast, bays, sounds. On ocean usually rather close to shore, sometimes well out to sea. Favors rocky bays, areas of deep water near base of cliffs. Nests on islands or coasts on narrow ledges, steep slopes, other inaccessible locations.
The smallest cormorant of the Pacific Coast. May be solitary in its feeding but gregarious at other times, with groups perching together on rocks near water, holding wings out to dry. During the nesting season, even non-breeding individuals come to roost at night around the edges of nesting colonies, but colonies are often smaller than those of its relatives. Often more shy and harder to approach than other cormorants.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • juvenile
Feeding Behavior

Forages by diving from surface and swimming underwater, propelled mainly by feet, though possibly sometimes may use wings as well. Forages singly, although may be attracted to concentrations of other feeding birds. Known to dive to at least 120' below surface; takes much of food from near bottom in rocky areas.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes 1-7. Bluish white, becoming nest-stained. Incubation is by both sexes, 26-37 days, typically about 30. Young: Probably both parents feed nestlings. Young may be capable of short flights at 35-40 days, leave nest at about 45-55 days (much variation). Parents may tend and feed young for a few weeks after they leave nest.


Young

Probably both parents feed nestlings. Young may be capable of short flights at 35-40 days, leave nest at about 45-55 days (much variation). Parents may tend and feed young for a few weeks after they leave nest.

Diet

Fish, crustaceans. Eats mainly small fish, including sculpin, herrings, greenlings, sand lance; also many crabs, shrimps. Also eats marine worms, amphipods, algae.


Nesting

Nests in colonies. Male displays at nest site with bill pointed up, tail down, quickly raising and lowering tips of folded wings so that white flank patches appear to flash rapidly. Nest: Site is on cliffs with near-vertical slopes, narrow ledges. Parents not effective at defending eggs or young, rely on inaccessible location for protection. Nest is of seaweed, grass, moss, sometimes sticks. Both sexes help build nest; may use same nest each year, adding to it annually.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Present year-round in most of range, but vacates northernmost breeding areas (western Alaska) in winter when waters freeze, and becomes more common off southern California and Baja in winter.

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Migration

Present year-round in most of range, but vacates northernmost breeding areas (western Alaska) in winter when waters freeze, and becomes more common off southern California and Baja in winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Groaning and hissing calls around breeding colonies.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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