Vulnerability: least concern (population increasing)
Identification: difficult (can be confused with European shag)
What is it?
The Great cormorant takes its name from its large size both in length (between 80cm and 100cm) and wingspan (between 130cm and 160cm). Sizes vary slightly between the different subspecies, but the Atlantic Arctic is the home of the nominate subspecies, which is slightly larger than other subspecies found in Europe. Great cormorants are black with a lighter area around the throat which is more well-defined in breeding plumage. Adults in breeding plumage also have a white patch on the thigh. The beak is grey with yellow skin at the base. The European shag is very similar, and can easily be confused with the great cormorant. The shag's more slender beak, more sharply defined head, and pure black plumage, can help in identification. Here is a great illustrated guide for cormorant identification.
Where is it?
The Great cormorant has a huge range, from eastern America to New Zealand. In the East Atlantic Arctic, it is strictly migratory. It is found breeding along the western Greenland coast, northwestern Iceland, and northern Fennoscandia. Some populations winter throughout the rest of Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and southwestern Norway. Great cormorants used to breed in the Faroe Islands, but they are now only rare but regular visitors winter visitors. On the other hand, they started breeding in Finland in 1996, where approximately 26,000 breeding couples were counted in 2020. Great cormorants are absent from Svalbard.
White great cormorants exist, although they are extremely rare. The condition that causes them to be white is called albinism, which is a condition that can be found in many vertebrates - including humans. It is linked to eyesight and hearing problems, so it is rare that albino cormorants make it to adulthood. The individual shown on the right is fully grown, which is exceptional. It was spotted at lake Kerkini in Greece around 2011. True albinism (as opposed to leucism, which also makes animals white or partially white) can be identified by the red eyes.
Cormorant fishing is an extremely old practice, with records dating back to the 5th century. It has been practiced inmany parts of the world including Peru, China, Japan, Greece, the Netherlands, France, and England. The birds are stopped from swallowing fish using a cord tied around their neck, and they are trained to come back with fish to the fishermen. Today, cormorant is rare, but it is still practiced in some regions of China, mainly as a touristic attraction.
- Cover picture: "Great Cormorant" by 0ystercatcher is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- Presentation picture: "Aalscholver - Great Cormorant" by Rob Zweers is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- "Phalacrocorax carbo Albino" by Nio8693 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
- "Cormorant Fishing, Guilin" by Ndecam is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
- Beike, Marcus (2012). "The history of Cormorant fishing in Europe" (PDF). Vogelwelt: 1–19.
- BirdLife International (2022) Species factsheet: Phalacrocorax carbo. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 02/01/2022.
- Cook, R. T., Jewell, J. D. O., Chivell, W., & Bester, N. M. (2012). An Albino Cape Cormorant Phalacrocorax Capensis. Marine Ornithology, 40, 72–73.
- Cormorant Bird Facts | Phalacrocorax Carbo. (2019). The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - RSPB. https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/cormorant/
- Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo. (2016). NatureGate. https://luontoportti.com/en/t/537/great-cormorant
- Leicht, Hermann (1960). Pre-Inca Art and Culture. New York: Orion Press. pp. 49–50.
- Manzi, M.; Coomes, O. T. (2010). "Cormorant Fishing in Southwestern China: A Traditional Fishery Under Siege". The Geographical Review. 92 (4): 597–603. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2002.tb00015.x. S2CID 162736384.
- Olofson, S. (2012). Birds of the Faroe Islands. Visit Faroe Islands. www.visitfaroeislands.com
- Rusanen, P., & Mikkola-Roos, M. (2018). Cormorant population in Finland has stabilised at approximately 26,000 breeding couples. SYKE - Finnish Environment Institute. https://www.syke.fi/en-US/Current/Cormorant_population_in_Finland_has_stab(58198