The Coastal Clown of Florida: The Cormorant
By Kelly Dean
I have often written about the fishing birds of Florida. Pelicans are famous. Osprey are awesome. And even the egret can slay a mighty minnow. But the truly cool birds are the wacky birds — and the wackiest of them all are the cormorant and anhinga. I’ll save the anhinga for later, for now let’s talk about the coastal clown.
The Coastal Clown – the Cormorant
You’re chomping a conch fritter at a bay-side establishment and you look out at the water. Suddenly you see a head and neck pop up out of the water in the middle of nowhere. Quickly, you grab your phone and look up the Loch Ness people; but wait, now you think it’s a snake – like a water moccasin skimming a lake surface up north. But it isn’t a snake at all, it’s a bird.
Even the Jurassic Park folks didn’t mention all the cool things birds can do.
The cormorant is a business-like bird with kind of funny look. A graceful flyer, certainly, but it looks kind of like I did in middle school: big webbed feet, curved nose, long neck, little head; and kind of a loner. They live anywhere near fish but love the estuary areas the most due to the abundance of fish. They hang out in mangroves and on marine marker posts looking for dinner. They are adept at diving and fishing with their head and neck showing above the water occasionally, like the anhinga does.
It has been on my photographic bucket list to catch one while emerging from the water and actually taking flight. Yet they are so unpredictable and tend to just pop up, fly, not fly, re-dunk, swim, stay underwater for yards, play backgammon (maybe). It’s difficult to catch one at the right time. Oh sure, you can catch them on a boat marker, but the cormorant does its job like the mafia: quiet-like. When you do see one, it takes flight and is gone before you’re ready. I am happy it finally happened. I got lucky.
A Side Note
Cormorants are being culled in some parts of the world, including the southeastern U.S. It’s claimed that they eat too many bait fish, which disrupts coastal fisheries. It is also claimed that they eat farmed fish inland. Humans cull them by shooting them or pouring corn oil on their eggs to smother them.
I can’t speak to the fish farming thing. I haven’t seen it. But I did see two cormorants this morning on the bay while eating breakfast. I saw about 30 fishermen.