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Key facts

Scientific name: Phalacrocorax carbo
Status: Resident breeding species

Breeding birds: 9,018 pairs

Wintering birds: 41,000

Conservation status: Green

Family: Cormorants

Length: 80 – 100 cm
Wingspan: 130 – 160 cm
Weight: 2.1 – 2.8 kg

What do cormorants look like?

Adult cormorants in breeding plumage are glossy black with bronze on the lower back, rump and wings, and blue-black on their upper back and tail. The plumage has a scaled effect. The underparts are black and there is a conspicuous  white patch on the thighs.

The head and chin are black with bare, white skin on the cheeks and throat. There is a loose crest of elongated, white feathers on the nape, which may extend to the rear neck or fore neck. The thick, straight bill is horn-coloured with a yellow or orange gape, and hooked tip, the eyes are emerald-green, and the short legs and webbed feet are black.

Out of breeding plumage, cormorants have duller plumage and lose most of the white feathers.  Males and females look similar, but the male is slightly larger with a larger bill.

Juvenile cormorants are mottled with a brown neck and white belly. By the second year they resemble adults but are browner.

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How do cormorants breed?

Cormorants breed all year round depending on food sources and produce 1 brood a year. They breed in colonies of up to 2000 pairs on cliffs, or in trees and bushes. Both male and female build the nest which is made from twigs, sticks, reeds, seaweed, moss, and debris.

Cormorants lay 2-6 pale chalky-blue or green eggs, which are incubated by both parents for 27 to 31 days. They place the eggs on their large, webbed feet underneath their body to keep them warm. Chicks are blind and altricial and are covered in black down. They are fed by both parents with a regurgitated liquid for a few days and then solid food brought to the nest.

They fledge 50 days after hatching but remain with their parents for another 50 days and reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years.

What do cormorants eat?

Cormorants eat mostly fish but occasionally supplement their diet when in freshwater with crustaceans, amphibians or insects.


Where can I see cormorants?

Cormorants are found around the coastlines of the UK on rocky shores, lagoons and estuaries. They can also spotted inland on lakes, reservoirs and gravel pits.

What do cormorants sound like?

Szymon Pławecki/xeno-canto

Did you know?

In Norway cormorants are considered sacred birds and it is good look for cormorants to have them gather near your town or village.

Have you taken a picture of a cormorant?

Share it in our bird spotters’ gallery

6 Responses

  1. I think it must have been a cormorant on the (Peak Forest) canal. Large and swimming elegantly close to the water. But the feathers seemed more brown than black. And the long bill seemed all yellow.

  2. I saw a Cormorant on the river in Rye Park in High Wycombe, preening its feathers. Thought it was odd but we are not so far from The Thames in Marlow, we do get gulls in Wycombe so maybe not so odd.

  3. Ccycling along the forth and Clyde canal recently and seen my first cormorent, it has just caught a big fish which was flipping around then I watched it swallow said fish with relative ease. Was so nice too see. Bigger than I thought they would be,a d the way it cut the water was expertly done.

  4. I saw a cormorant for the first time in a river in The North Yorkshire Moors yesterday. It suddenly disappeared so I eventually made my way to the water’s edge and there it stood on some stones drying its wings… that’s how I knew what it was.

  5. I saw this exact bird on the river severn in Worcester today 21/03/22.
    From the river bridge in the city centre. It stood out with its dark colours against the usual swans and seagulls.
    It took a dive and came up a little further along with something in its beak.
    It went straight down in the dive like a dart.

  6. I saw a flock of small cormorant like birds about 25 miles inland in North Yorkshire. I have photos. They flew in a flock of about 20 and rested in a tall tree.

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