BRANDT'S CORMORANT.
(Phalacrocorax penicillatus.)


There are about thirty species of Cormorants which are distributed throughout the world. Ten of these are known to inhabit North America. They are ocean birds, yet they are also occasionally seen on the larger bodies of fresh water. The Pacific coast of North America and the shores of New Zealand are rich in species and their plumage is more beautiful than that of those found in other parts of the world.

The name Cormorant is derived from the Latin words Corvus Marinus, meaning marine crow or raven. This name may have been suggested by the fact that these birds are fond of sitting on an elevated perch, especially after a hearty meal. In this habit of seeking high perches, and because of their dark color, they resemble the raven or crow. The generic name Phalacrocorax is derived from the Greek words, meaning bald crow.

One of the species that frequents the coast of Europe is easily tamed and in early times was trained to fish for its master. There was even an appointment in the royal household known as the "Master of the Cormorants." When used in fishing "a strap is fastened around the birds neck so as, without impeding its breath, to hinder it from swallowing its captures. Arrived at the waterside, it is cast off. It at once dives and darts along the bottom as swiftly as an arrow in quest of its prey, rapidly scanning every hole or pool. A fish is generally seized within a few seconds of its being sighted and as each is taken the bird rises to the surface with its capture in its bill. It does not take much longer to dispose of the prize in the dilatable skin of its throat so far as the strap will allow and the pursuit is recommenced until the birds gular pouch, capacious as it is, will hold no more. It then returns to its keeper, who has been anxiously watching and encouraging its movements, and a little manipulation of its neck effects the delivery of the booty."

     

The Cormorants are voracious eaters. They catch the fish, which is their usual food, under water by rapid swimming and with the aid of their hooked bills. On account of this habit of the bird the word Cormorant has been used synonymously with the word glutton, rapacious or avaricious when applied to a person who exhibits these traits.

Brandt's Cormorant, the bird of our illustration, is found on the Pacific coast from the state of Washington southward to Cape St. Lucas at the southern extremity of Lower California. In its habits it is gregarious and collects in great numbers wherever its natural food of fish is plentiful. These flocks present a very odd appearance and their long necks appear as numerous black sticks on the watery background.

Mr. Leverett M. Loomis well illustrates the habits of these birds in a report on the California Water birds. He says of a rookery "which is situated on a rock, or little islet, in the ocean at the extremity of Point Carmel, about fifteen yards from the mainland. This rock rises perpendicularly some forty or more feet above the water. At first sight it does not seem that it can be scaled, but closer inspection reveals that a foothold may be had in the seams and protuberances on its water worn sides. Only on days when the sea is very calm can the rock be landed upon and then only from the sheltered channel separating it from the mainland. We first took a view of the rookery from the mainland. The Cormorants were very tame, remaining on their nests while we clambered down the sloping rocks and while we stood watching them on the same level, only a few yards away. They were equally tame when our boat drew nearer as we approached from the water. The clefts in the sides of the rock were occupied by Baird's Cormorant and the top by Brandt's. There were comparatively few of the former, but of the Brandt's Cormorant there were upwards of two hundred pairs. Their nests covered the top of the rock, every available situation being occupied. Standing in one place I counted one hundred and eighteen."

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