Last month I participated in the Great backyard Bird Count. On the first day of the count I went to Reid Park in Tucson where I found a small flock of cormorants swimming in one of the man-made ponds along with all the ducks.
Here in southeast Arizona we tend to get mostly Neotropic cormorants, but a quick look at this bunch revealed a double-crest cormorant in their midst. He was not hard to find as he sailed through the water wings raised as if he were a ship or a dragon. His double crests, which are rarely seen, were fluffed and flared for all to see.
These shaggy crests are what also give the species their alternate name of “shag” and in some parts of the world that is how they are known.
I have never seen a Double-crested Cormorant up this close and in such fine display. As the bird sailed about in the water I was entranced.
Once it came onto land, I snapped picture after picture. He seemed to me as if he were saying, “Aren’t I Magnificent?”
His blue-black and bronze plumage made the smaller and browner Neotropics seem almost boring in comparison. When one first encounters the two species it can be a bit difficult to tell the two apart, but on this day I had no problem as the orange throat patch or gular skin was easily visible.
In Double-crested Cormorants this throat patch is curved, but in the Neotropic Cormorant the base of the beak is pointed towards the back of the head and the gular patch is yellowish. During breeding season this area is surrounded by white on the Neotropic. In my research I was also surprised to learn this species was once known as the “sea raven.”
When I was younger and before I was a birder I discovered a wonderful nonsense poem about cormorants that I love. In looking it up just now I learned that is was written by Christopher Isherwood, though some sources list the author as being anonymous. I still love this poem as the rhyme, rhythm and humor of it always make me smile:
The common cormorant (or shag)
Lays its eggs in paper bags
The reason you will see, no doubt
Is to keep the lightening out.
But what these unobservant birds
Have never thought of, is that herds
Of wandering bears might come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs. ~Christopher Isherwood
Here is my own take on this species as I saw it on this day:
The Feathered Sea Dragon
Proud and brave I lift my head,
Horns flared, jeweled eyes flashing,
Look at my throat patch as I sail by,
A ship on the sea, a dragon on shore,
Don’t mess with me!
I am magnificent!
Just look at me,
Just look at me!
I am the most magnificent bird on the sea!
~Kathie Adams Brown (March 5, 2013)
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