White-breasted Cormorant

Phalacrocorax carbo lucidus

The White-breasted Cormorant inhabits estuaries, lagoons, shallow and sheltered coastal waters, swamps, lakes, dams and rivers. It is the only cormorant in South Africa that is equally at home in both marine and aquatic habitats. They feed primarily on fish, but will also take molluscs, amphibians, crustaceans, and the chicks of smaller birds. At a metre in length with a wingspan of around 1.5m and a weight of up to 3.2kg, it is Africa’s largest cormorant.

Breeding in White-breasted Cormorants have been recorded throughout the year, but reaches a peak at the end of the rainy season. While they are mostly solitary when foraging, they roost and nest in colonies, numbering anywhere between 10 and 1000 monogamous pairs, and often mixed with other kinds of waterbirds. Depending on where they find themselves these colonies may be located on rocky islands, cliffs, inaccessible (for land-based predators) sandbanks, shipwrecks, or in trees and reedbeds. Nests are platforms built by the female with sticks, reeds, seaweed, feathers and litter that is provided by the male. Clutches of 2-5 eggs are incubated by both parents for around 4 weeks. The chicks are fed regurgitated fish by both parents, perform their first flight when they’re about 8 weeks old and then become independent at about 4 months old.

White-breasted Cormorants occur almost throughout South Africa, even into the arid west along the Orange River and its larger tributaries. North of our borders they occur in a wide band through central and east Africa to the Red Sea and in isolated parts of Nigeria, Chad and Senegal. Most authorities consider the White-breasted Cormorant to be a subspecies of the Great Cormorant which has a much wider global distribution (every continent except South America and Antarctica), but some specialists suggest the White-breasted Cormorant should be considered a distinct species. The IUCN estimates the Great Cormorant’s population at as many as 2-million birds and lists the species as being of least concern. They are however persecuted by the aquaculture industry in many range countries and is at risk both from oil spills and of poisonous pollution-buildup in the fish stocks they subsist on.

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21 thoughts on “White-breasted Cormorant

  1. Beth

    At Dictionary.com we read that a cormorant is any one of a variety of long-necked sea birds with a distensible pouch under the bill for catching fish. It is used in China for fishing

    Meaning #2 is a greedy person.

    That brings me to the way the word was used in Shakespeare’s time.

    Folk-lore of Shakespeare, by T.F. Thiselton Dyer, [1883], at sacred-texts.com

    Professor Stephen Orgel suggests that Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is so named because of ‘Selah’ or ‘Shiloh’ from the Bible and the Hebrew ‘Selach’ for the cormorant bird. Orgel says the name Shylock apparently has ancient Saxon roots and means “white-haired.” Yes, the cormorant is a greedy “white-haired” bird and so was Shylock.

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  2. John

    Very beautiful bird whit the white and black color.😊 I have never seen a cormorant sitting in a tree, and here have you a picture of a tree full of them.😊 Strange that they only are in Africa, when great cormorant is everywhere. They are very like each other, except the color.

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    1. de Wets Wild Post author

      I think the specific distribution is part of the reason why some specialists consider the White-breasted Cormorant to be a uniquely plumaged subspecies of the Great Cormorant, John. Personally I would like to think that they are seperate species, probably with a common ancestor, but I don’t have the scientific credentials to back that up.

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  3. sustainabilitea

    I love cormorants. They’re amazing in the water. I’ve counted seconds when they’ve gone under and they often stay under 20 seconds or more, than pop up quite a distance from where they went under. Ours tend to be black, though.

    janet

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