Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus)


Most commonly found in the American tropics and subtropics, the Neotropic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) is a fairly large bird that generally nests around well-watered areas or lakes and rivers. Besides being found on the mainland of North America as far up as Rio Grand and the Californian coast through to Mexico, Central America and the southern parts of South America, it can also be found on smaller landmasses such as the Bahamas, Cuba and Trinidad. Most of these birds are permanent residents, though some do wander north in the warmer months. Because the bird is so widespread, some ornithologists prefer to treat those found north as one species and those found in the south as another species. However, they can also be grouped into the subspecies Phalacrocorax brasilianus mexicanus (the northern birds) and Phalacrocorax brasilianus brasilianus (the southern birds) and the two are therefore often grouped together as one species of cormorant. The Neotropic Cormorant was formerly known as the Olivaceous Cormorant.

Neotropic Cormorants usually have a body length of 64 cm with a wingspan of 100 cm. They can weigh between 1 and 1.5 kg and those found in the south are usually bigger than those found in the north. Neotropic Cormorants are somewhat slender compared to other cormorants and they have a long tail, hooked bill and long, thin neck, which it frequently holds in an S-shape. The Gular region is pointed and dull yellow in colour and there is a thin pale border around this area. The adult bird has dark plumage covering its entire body, though the throat becomes whiter during breeding season with white tufts appearing on the sides of the head. Immature Neotropic Cormorants have dull brown upperparts and pale underparts.

The Neotropic Cormorant is somewhat different from other cormorants in that it often perches on wires. When it does perch, it is usually with wings spread wide open to dry. These birds feed mainly on small fish and also eat tadpoles, frogs and aquatic insects. They obtain their food by diving underwater and using their feet as a means of propulsion. The Neotropic Cormorant may also forage in groups, beating their wings in the water to drive the fish into the shallows. When it comes to mating, the birds are monogamous and they breed in colonies. They usually build their nest out of sticks in a depression. The centre is usually lined with twigs and grass and cater to as many as five eggs. Both parents sit on the eggs for a period of 25-30 days and then both work together to feed the young until the chicks reach independence at 12 weeks of age. Neotropic Cormorants raise only one brood a year.