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A Cormorant’s Dream

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Our cormorants are some of the most personable birds of the wetlands. As common as they may be in this area, they’re fascinating and sweet creatures.

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Hello, sweet one

I caught this serene cormorant — or “shag” (referring to the bird’s crest, which is lacking in the British forms of the Great Cormorant) — as he was preparing for the evening in the local wetlands.

These medium-to-large coastal (rather than oceanic) seabirds are plentiful in southeastern Florida, and can often be seen diving for fish and other aquatic grub. After fishing, the cormorants dry their wings ashore in the sun and in the trees (similar to the cormorant-like anhingas), as their feathers don’t possess the waterproofing oil of other seabirds.

Preening Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Preening time

Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

One last look to the setting sun

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Nodding off

Sleeping Cormorant, Florida Wetlands

Snooze

Check out their beautiful and distinctive turquoise eyes that fade quickly after the breeding / nesting season.

Humans have long used trained cormorants to fish the waters of China, Japan, and Macedonia. Trained by fishermen, a snare is tied near the base of the bird’s throat, allowing the bird to swallow only small fish. When the bird captures and tries to swallow larger fish, the snare doesn’t allow the fish to be swallowed, and it becomes stuck in the bird’s throat. The cormorant is forced to return to the fisherman’s boat, where he helps the bird regurgitate the fish, removing it from its throat. Traditional cormorant fishing isn’t as common a method today — with the development of more efficient fishing methods — but it remains a tourist draw. However, the method is still practiced in some Japanese regions, and has continued uninterrupted for 1300 years in Gifu City, in Gifu Prefecture.

53 Comments Post a comment
  1. Beautiful upclose shots! Love the story.

    May 8, 2013
    • I was happy he was so tired, and let me stay relatively close… 🙂

      Thanks so much!!

      May 8, 2013
  2. I love this bird. Goofy, but cool all the same. 🙂

    May 8, 2013
    • I adore them, too! They really are goofy — but those beaks, wow. Powerful tools!

      May 8, 2013
  3. They do look so sweet in spite of having suffered for 300 years at the hands of cruel fishermen. How could this possibly be a tourist attraction?

    May 8, 2013
    • Aren’t they so very sublime? I know, though… Even though it’s a centuries-long practice, I can’t help but feel sorry for the trained birds — choking on fish that they’re catching by instinct!

      May 8, 2013
  4. Beautiful images. I had the pleasure of taking care of them and other sea birds in rehabilitation at a wildlife center I worked at a number of years ago in south Florida. It was physically hard work, most of it outdoors in the sun, it paid next to nothing, by the end of the day I’d be hot, sweaty, covered in dirt (and other things I won’t mention)… and it was the best job I ever had. – – I really enjoy your blog.

    May 8, 2013
    • Ah, what an INCREDIBLY wonderful thing you were doing… THANK YOU!!! I know people who have done this work, and believe me — working in this heat, this sun — you deserve so much.

      Thanks so very much. ♥

      May 8, 2013
  5. The cormorant in the first photo looks so thoughtful, like he is thinking about the big fish that got away. (grin)

    May 8, 2013
    • Isn’t he the sweetest? So serene. He’s probably like, “lady, can you please leave me alone already?” 🙂

      May 8, 2013
  6. bobca1947@comcast.net #

    Hi Christy-

    Your e-mail brought back many memories of going to Japan as a summer  exchange student right after graduating from high school in 1965.  One of my host families took me out to watch the fishermen using the cormorant’s  to catch the fish.  It was an amazing spectacle.  I still have some photos of this in a scrapbook.

    Thanks for the trip down “memory lane.”

    Best-

    Bob

    May 8, 2013
    • Wow, so you actually got to see it in action?

      I know it’s a centuries-long practice, but I can’t help but feel sorry for the trained birds — choking on fish that they’re catching by instinct!

      You’re gonna have to scan these and SEND them to me!! 🙂

      May 8, 2013
      • jimbey #

        …. Don’t feel too sorry for the cormorants. They are, believe it or not, more like trained, working pets. By and large, they are well treated – and honored family “members”. In fact, these birds tend to live as much as four times longer than their wild brethren. I’ve only seen the practice once (in Fukuoka, Japan – when *I* was an exchange student), but as I recall, there was no harsh restraint on the birds. I remember how strange it looked seeing a flat raft-like boat covered with big birds on dog leashes. Some of the birds were perched on the fishermen. Although they are “in servitude”, their lot is no worse than a saddle horse or dairy cow. JMHO, of course.

        May 8, 2013
      • Very good perspective….! Great comparison.

        May 8, 2013
  7. Fantastic portraits of this wonderful bird, I really enjoyed these!

    May 8, 2013
    • Aw, thanks so much Phil! I was just happy that my close presence didn’t disturb his night-time preparation too much… 🙂

      May 8, 2013
  8. I enjoyed the information on the trained cormorants and think I recall seeing photographs from China with cormorants on the boats but never realized maybe why. Jimbey’s comment interesting too having witness this and that the birds were part of the family. Anytime there is mutual need like this for survival there is a bonding. You think of falcons and maybe messenger pigeons but never realized cormorants were trained. Interesting bit of info.
    Pics great too!!

    May 8, 2013
    • Thanks so much — and yes, I can see how that mutual exchange / need would encourage (I would hope) decent treatment of the animals.

      I had learned about their training from some people I grew up with overseas, but never got to see it in action… It IS interesting.

      May 8, 2013
  9. Pat #

    Lovely sweet creatures. Thank you for sharing with us.

    May 8, 2013
    • They really are sweet guys; very personable! As much as I see them, another perspective offers a more mellow vision of them. So happy to share!

      May 8, 2013
  10. Oh how sweet… I didn’t know they were used in that way… Michelle

    May 8, 2013
    • Very fascinating history, eh? They’re such personable guys in our area… 🙂

      May 8, 2013
  11. For some of us, it’s easy to take such a common bird for granted. Thank you for a nice article and superb images!

    May 8, 2013
    • It really is easy to take these guys for granted in our parts! But seeing them from another viewpoint is always interesting — look how gentle and mellow he looks, hee. 🙂

      Thanks so much!

      May 8, 2013
  12. What a beautiful birds. I hope they have a bright and natural future.

    May 8, 2013
    • You should see their eyes during the breeding season (the link is embedded in there, at the bottom)… A brilliant teal blue! As common as they are, they still intrigue me. I agree — here’s to their continued thriving!

      May 8, 2013
  13. Interesting text as always . I learn a lot by reading your blog! The photos is wonderful.
    // Maria

    May 8, 2013
    • Thanks so much! I’m glad to share our guys with you… So very different than those of your area, yes? 🙂

      May 8, 2013
      • Yes they really are 🙂 ! // Maria

        May 9, 2013
  14. Beautiful post. I love cormorants and that quote is beautiful.

    May 8, 2013
    • Thanks so much! As common as they are to our area, I still love them…. So very personable! And I think I had “Le Petit Prince” on my mind, since the book just celebrated an anniversary. 🙂

      May 8, 2013
  15. It looks like a bird that you could settle in for a fun photo session. Great photos.

    May 8, 2013
    • So very true; If it weren’t for the fact that I didn’t want to bother him any longer, I would have stayed…. 🙂

      Thanks so much!

      May 9, 2013
  16. I love the candid expressions that you have captured; they are such great fun.

    May 9, 2013
    • Thanks so much! Those kinds of portraits are the absolute best (at least for me); it shows their inherent being, in a sense. Otherwise, it’s a bit empty.

      May 9, 2013
  17. You always have such interesting little tidbits of information along with your gorgeous pictures. You are such a wealth of information and thank you ever so much for passing it on!! Mari

    May 9, 2013
    • You’re so incredibly kind… THANK you! We have such special critters around here, so unusual. These habitats are truly unique.

      May 9, 2013
  18. We have so many cormorants here – and yet they’ve never seemed as attractive as they do here in your photos. I usually see them at a distance, though, or just after a dive, or when they’re brought their wet, bedraggled selves up to dry off. These photos are just wonderful, and the linked photos of the blue eyes are splendid.

    It’s so funny – one of their favorite roosts around here are the high-tension electrical lines that run along one of our main highways and across a network of waterways. There can be as many as a couple of hundred there at a time. When a new one flies in, of course they all have to rearrange themselves, up and down the lines.

    I just went to do a google image search to see if I could find a photo of them on the lines. I used “clear creek channel kemah cormorants” as a search term, and all I turned up were about two dozen photos from my blog?!? Who knows what that’s about.

    By the way – I finally got around to adding you to my list of terrific photographers on my sidebar. I want everyone in the world to find your blog.

    May 9, 2013
    • Hahh! Oh, ditto to that… They’re usually just as bedraggled here, believe me! This guy was just so very sweet and sleepy — very unusual!!

      So odd though! I’ve NEVER seen them on the electrical lines, down here. Hopefully that’s because they have enough natural spaces (GASP! GASP!) to roost in? But wow…. Your blog photos came up for you… Fantastic?!

      Ah, you’re so incredibly KIND! Thanks from the bottom of my heart for sharing. I truly think you’re one of the best writers, most clever thinkers out there… So it’s an honor. 🙂

      May 10, 2013
  19. Gorgeous images! We see them all around here, they’re so easy to spot – they are somewhat frantic fliers, as compared to the soaring pelicans and gulls. And when they take off, you can see tiny splashes of water, as they take a few steps before getting airborne.

    Sometimes we can get fairly close, when they are drying out on the rocks, holding their wings aloft – as still as statues.

    May 11, 2013
    • Thanks so very much!

      I love to see them drying their wings…. So stately. I imagine by this point, I have hundreds of such images of them! I need to get on the ball and post. 🙂 It’s funny when people see them for the first time in such a pose, not knowing what they’re doing….

      May 13, 2013
  20. Beautiful amazing pictures feygirl! Interesting to know that they dry themselves in the sun – haha not sure what they do here then….maybe hang out in bedraggled heaps under wind blown hedges? Who knows? Greetings from shaggy (soggy, again) cornwall 🙂

    May 11, 2013
    • Aw, thanks so very much! 🙂

      Hee, they would DEFINITELY not fare well in your gorgeous Cornwall (one of my all-time favorite places, you know!). It really is funny when people see these guys for the first time in such a pose — it can be disconcerting, if you’re not accustomed to it! But also quite lovely and stately. Hope all’s well across the pond, XO!!

      May 13, 2013
  21. The cormorant featured in your photos was just gorgeous. It’s very curious that their feathers aren’t oily. I had always wondered why they opened their wings to dry them when other birds don’t.

    May 13, 2013
    • Isn’t he the sweetest? Little sleepy fellow. Usually they’re a bit hyper and, as another blogger put it so well — bedraggled! 🙂

      When people not accustomed to our cormorants and anhingas see them drying their wings (I promise to post one of my hundreds of images of this), it can be a bit disconcerting! Sometimes they hook their wings on branches, giving the appearance of being caught up….

      May 14, 2013
  22. is this a baby? How adorable. I’ve never seen a little one before.

    May 29, 2013
    • I don’t think so — I’m pretty sure it was an adult… Just a sleepy guy. 🙂

      May 29, 2013
  23. Beautiful shots and great story!

    February 4, 2014
    • Thanks so much! They’re really very tame birds around here, for being wild. Or, they’re just lazy while they hang out to dry… 🙂

      February 7, 2014
  24. Beautiful bird and excellent shots!

    June 2, 2014
    • Thanks so very much! We’re lucky to have such stunning creatures surrounding us. 🙂

      June 13, 2014
  25. Thousands of these birds come into Grand Lake, Oklahoma every spring and fall with the pelican migrations. I have always thought of them as pests, but this gives me a new appreciation for these birds. Now I will watch them more closely and maybe paint a few. Thank you for sharing this.

    January 30, 2015
    • How wonderful! That’s the best thing I could hope to hear, for any creature. They really are fascinating birds — I have a few posts on them (if you search for “cormorant” above; but I love this one’s brilliant blue eyes: https://serenityspell.com/2012/05/01/a-calm-cormorant-2/…). I know they’re considered pests in some areas, but they play a vital role in certain ecosystems.

      If you do another painting, I’d LOVE to see it! 🙂 I’d also love to see that migration, alas…

      January 30, 2015

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