The Heron’s competitor: the cormorant!

22st February 2012:  On average, I see three cormorants at any one time on the marsh, and these are nearly always perched on the overhead power lines. The cormorant is a winter visitor. When the weather warms they fly off to the coast, leaving the remaining fish for the fishermen and herons to catch; or at least this is an opinion I have heard voiced on more than one occasion.

There are supposed to be around 7500 breeding cormorant pairs in the UK, of which 1500 of these nest inland. They eat approximately half a kilo of fish per day, usually 5mm to 150mm in length. It is said that they will work together to increase their fishing efficiency.

Cormorants will eat just enough for their needs, or the needs of their chicks. On the whole, they are lazy birds and spend most of their time doing nothing in particular – sitting on overhead power lines is the favourite leisure-time activity. Being a lazy bird, the cormorant prefers to be where there is plenty of fish, and it isn’t necessarily true that a decline in fish stocks is down to cormorant. However, cormorants can cause serious economic damage to fisheries, but this is more to do with a large amount of fish being available in one place, which in turn attracts more cormorants looking for an easy meal. On the marsh, it is far more likely that you will see cormorants sitting on power cables, or flying in or out of the reserve, than you will see actually fishing.

Cormorants are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981. Anyone found guilty of an offence against cormorants, or any protected wild bird, can be fined up to £5000, given six months imprisonment, or both.

9 Comments on “The Heron’s competitor: the cormorant!

  1. Just shows my ignorance: I had no idea they were to be found away from the sea. Mind you, I do live just about as far from the sea as it is possible to be:) Very informative, thanks.

    • Thanks for your comment, sweffling.

      Identifying shags and cormorants in the UK and most of Europe is fairly easy once you know what to look for.

      The shag has a long but lightly built bill. If you look at the forehead you will see that it is quite high, giving an almost 90-degree angle from the bill, this rises up to a hump above the eye making this the highest part of the head; this is true for all ages and sexes throughout the year. The back of the head is rounded and flows smoothly into the neck. Th name shag originates from the crest it has on its head, and the its feathers turn a dark green during the breading season.

      Shags are rarely seen inland on fresh water; they inhabit the north and west coasts, and they are also quite rare now. There are probably no more than ten nesting sites in the UK, and the shag lives its life within 100 to 200 kilometers of its nesting site.

      The Great Cormorant has a heavier beak, which is deeper at the base than the tip giving a tapered appearance. The forehead is shallow rising gently to a high point at the back of the head, where it then turns sharply down so that the nape is almost vertical in resting birds.

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