The Poets’ Birds: Cormorants

Double-crested cormorant  (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Given their propensity to perch atop pilings or promontories while drying their outstretched wings, cormorants too often are regarded as little more than featureless silhouettes.

In truth, both their appearance and their behaviors are complex and interesting. Fishermen may despise them for their ability to out-fish humans, and tourists often ridicule them for their apparent ungainliness, but at least one poet found himself inspired by the remarkable bird.

The birds don’t alter space.
They reveal it. The sky
never fills with any
leftover flying. They leave
nothing to trace. It is our own
astonishment that collects
in chill air. Be glad.
They enter their due
moment never begging,
and enter ours
without parting day. See
how three birds in a winter tree
make the tree barer.
Two fly away, and new rooms
open in December.
Give up what you guessed
about a whirring heart, the little
beaks and claws, their constant hunger.
We’re the nervous ones.
If even one of our violent number
could be gentle
long enough that one of them
found it safe inside
our finally untroubled and untroubling gaze,
who wouldn’t hear
what singing completes us?
                                  “Praise Them” ~ Li-Young Lee


Comments always are welcome.
Visit The Poetry Foundation for more information on poet Li-Young Lee.
For more images of this accomodating cormorant found at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, see my latest post on Lagniappe.

90 thoughts on “The Poets’ Birds: Cormorants

    1. I was surprised to see this one at the refuge. They’re quite common around Galveston Bay and the channels leading to it, but the refuge ponds and sloughs generally contain more diving and dabbling duck, wading birds, and so on. It may be that our substantial rains have deepened the waters around the refuges enough to make them more attractive to the cormorants.

    1. Cormorants absolutely are fish-eaters of the first order. In fact, they eat so many fish that they’ve developed a bit of a bad reputation with some commercial and recreational fishermen, who think they diminish their catch. Whether that’s true still is debated, but there is a saying that if there aren’t any cormorants in an area, you can be sure there aren’t any fish.

      Give thanks for those vultures, though. Were it not for them cleaning up the environment, we’d be in a bad way. This past weekend, I watched a large group of vultures nearly eliminate two deer carcasses from the side of the road, in only two days. They know their business!

    1. I hadn’t been familiar with the poet, and thought this example of his work was wonderful. I’m glad you enjoyed it, as well. I’m not sure I’d call the cormorants cute, but I agree completely that they’re interesting. Now I’m eager to try and photograph their turquoise eye and blue mouth!

    1. I have a friend who always sighs when she sees pelicans flying and says, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to do that?”

      As for this one, I’m not sure what it was up to. Maybe nothing particular. It might have had a good meal, and just was sitting around, letting it digest. It amazes me to see the size of the fish they can swallow. Sometimes one will surface with a particularly large fish, and it takes some time for it to flip it around so it goes down the right way: that is, head first.

  1. That bird looks just like I feel this morning. Like where’s my coffee? You expect me to concentrate without it?

    1. I hope you got your coffee, Jean. I’ve had that feeling myself, sometimes. This one seemed more focused than I do in that situation, but his to-do list probably isn’t as long as ours.

  2. Thanks for the introduction to Li-Young Lee. The poem’s first lines made it clear that this wasn’t a translation of a classical Chinese poet.

    Now I can’t get Phalacrocorax, like a Greek chorus, out of my head. It turns out that the phalacro- is Greek for ‘bald’ and the corax means ‘crow.’ Oh, the flights of fancy those ornithophiles take us on.

    1. And now I’m thinking not of a Greek chorus, but of a Motown group like the Temptations. Can’t you imagine a line of cormorants lip-synching to this?

      Odd connections certainly crop up from time to time. Li-Young Lee’s great-grandfather, Yuan Shikai, was the first President of the Republic of China. At the end of the Wikipedia entry about Yuan, there was this note: “Like many Chinese men before 1949, Yuan used and was referred to by many different names… He was sometimes referred to by a title for tutors of the crown prince, ‘Kung-pao’.”

      As it happens, Kung-pao chicken is one of my favorite dishes. I went looking to see how it got its name, and found that it’s said to honor Ding Baozhen (1820–1886), a late Qing Dynasty official and governor of Sichuan Province who was a contemporary of Yuan. His title was Gong-bao, or Kung-pao: literally, “Palace Guardian.” I’ll never eat the dish again without thinking of Li-Young Lee, whose poetry is pretty tasty, too.

  3. That photo is beautiful. I am humbled when I’ve experienced, or seen, something–critter, or person, or thing–that I dismiss as plain, ordinary, only to then observe its beauty in full. I think your photo accomplished that for me.

    1. And perhaps the best part of it all is that there’s no predicting when it will happen. One example I can think of is the sunset. It took me a long time to learn that the best part of apparently ordinary and unremarkable sunsets sometimes comes even minutes after it seems the show is over. I think, too, of the world our macro lenses open. I certainly see spiders and flies differently than I used to.

      I’m glad this photo struck you as beautiful. I love it. Sometimes I wish we spoke the same language as birds, so we could know what they truly were thinking.

  4. I love the cormorants here too: we got a phone tape of them arguing over evening positions on a dead snag sticking out of the water. They have deep barking voices that sound ancient, nothing like a duck. They can swim with just their heads out of the water and we see them sitting on pilings and kelp with their wings outstretched to dry. And they are related to anhingas!

    1. We have anhingas in Texas, too, but they tend to congregate a bit farther east in river bottoms, the swampy areas around oxbows, and so on. You’re right about the cormorant’s voice. When several of them start croaking, it could be a little unnerving if you didn’t know what it was.

      They’re fun to watch when they come in to roost on some powerlines above a local marina. They’ve been roosting there for years, and it’s quite a large group. When a new one flies in and lands, the entire line shifts in either direction, to keep the proper space between the birds. “Get out of my space” certainly has meaning for the cormorants!

  5. What a wonderful partner to your other post. I’m glad you shared this poem. We see one on the lake now and then and I love watching him dive and guessing where he will emerge!

    1. I play that game, too. As ungainly as they are on land, they’re graceful and fast underwater, capable of submerging for quite some time, and traveling a good distance. Sometimes they really surprise me, and it’s always fun when one surfaces with a fish. I usually try to stagger my posts, but in this case, I so enjoyed all the cormorant photos I couldn’t choose just one. So, I didn’t!

    1. It’s odd that so many black birds are disliked: cormorants, vultures, crows, ravens, grackles. I suppose there are multiple reasons — the association of vultures with carcasses, and a tendency to consider black the color of death, for example — but in truth, all of them have some fine features, and are rewarding to watch. It’s probably easier to appreciate birds we meet in their natural environment, too. Seeing a photo of a cormorant is much different than finding one swimming and diving in a waterway.

      1. It is odd, and so is people’s affection for english sparrows, or flying rats, as I call them. It is the same for plants, often, with people preferring non-native flowers for our beautiful native species. Of course, I’m no purist when it comes to flowers. :)

    1. Since I don’t have one of those really long birding lenses, I’m accustomed to birds flying away when I get close enough for a decent photo. Whatever the reason, this one wasn’t so skittish, and I was delighted to have a chance for multiple photos.

      The poem is pleasing, isn’t it? His work was new to me, but I like it very much. I’m glad you did, too.

    1. That made me laugh. As I often remind myself (particularly when it seems a baby duck has gotten ‘lost’), birds know more about how to be birds than I do. Their skills are remarkable, and their willingness to work and work with a fish that seems too large to swallow is especially fun to watch.

  6. Cormorants completely kill all life on small islands by filling every square inch under any possible perch with deadly white poo. They gather daily in huge numbers, as many as can fit, on each tiny island. I watch them on a very small island in the river. Every year there are fewer live trees. Each spring I wait to see if anything green will appear. I think there are organizations devoted to trying to save tiny islands in Lake Champlain and the Finger Lakes.

    1. Because I’m not in an area where cormorants collect in any numbers, and breeding colonies are few, I didn’t know about the problems they’ve caused farther north. I went looking, and found this enlightening article in Michigan and the Great Lakes area.

      It’s another reminder of how difficult trying to “manage” wildlife can be. For one thing, the unintended consequences of a decision can be worse than the initial problem. There was great concern here about the intended use of a poisonous bait to kill the feral hogs that are multiplying and rampaging through everything from wildlife preserves to suburban yards. They are a horrid problem, and something has to be done, but concerns about other wildlife being affected — particularly those that might eat a hog carcass — sent the plans back to the drawing board.

  7. I’m glad you’ve posted a poem by Li-Young Lee. I read several of his poetry collections last year, trying to know more about this person, a Chinese-American poet, why, he’s a direct descendant of Yuan Shikai (Lee’s maternal great grandfather), a famous historical figure at the demise of the last dynasty in China. Anyway, I too have been mulling on historical facts lately.

    1. He’s new to me, Arti. After I found this poem, I looked him up on Poem Hunter, and was so taken with his work I couldn’t stop reading. I can see why his poetry would resonate for you. The presentation is simple, almost spare, but the themes are complex: family, displacement, immigration, second languages: all of interest to you, as well.

  8. I don’t guess I’ve ever seen one of these birdies, Linda. I’m assuming that, since they eat fish, they probably prefer a coastal region such as yours rather than inland next to a cornfield! I suppose if they can out-fish humans, they wouldn’t be particularly welcome even in your area, though, huh?

    1. They’re quite common north and east of you (Michigan, the Great Lakes, and so on) but even along Illinois rivers it seems they’re mostly absent. One Illinois website described them as an “uncommon migrant along Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. Elsewhere in in state an occasional migrant. Rare summer resident along upper Mississippi River, including an annual nesting colony in Carroll Co.” Even if that was multiplied by a thousand, it wouldn’t be many birds.

      The same article said that they tend to eat “non-commercial” fish. Exactly what that means I don’t know, but the complaints I hear about them around here involve their ability to sweep up the bait fish that attract trout, redfish, and other species the fisherman like to catch. I suppose they eat the young of larger species, too. Around here, they have a veritable buffet to choose from.

    1. They do tend to be “just part of the landscape,” don’t they? I was so pleased to have this one close enough to study some of its details. They really are interesting birds, and quite attractive — especially those feather patterns, which aren’t nearly so flat black and boring as I’d thought.

    1. I knew that ‘gooney bird’ was familiar, but I couldn’t remember why. Now, it’s all come back — Midway Island, the albatrosses, the aircraft — thanks to this article. In a way, the gooney birds seem more attractive than the cormorants, but they’re apparently just as clumsy and amusing. Of course, the great advantage of the cormorants is that they’re here, and not thousands of miles away.

  9. See
    how three birds in a winter tree
    make the tree barer.
    Two fly away, and new rooms
    open in December.

    That right there is a poem in itself. Thanks for turning me on to this interesting poet.

    1. That’s a memorable line, isn’t it? I suppose it’s a visual analogue to the way a single bird’s song can deepen the silence. Thinking about that, I imagined I was remembering a poem with the last line, “The silence around us is deep” — but I wasn’t. It was the concluding stanza of a William Stafford poem I was remembering:

      For it is important that awake people be awake,
      or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
      the signals we give—yes or no, or maybe—
      should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

      1. Buzzards in a bare tree can be particularly dramatic— and symbolic, especially if it is a dead tree.
        And yes, it important to be awake when we are awake. Not half asleep. Difficult to achieve, however. –Curt

  10. Lovely poem, reminding me of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s words about the beyond ungainly turkey vulture: “There’s an insouciance about birds in their element that always feels to me like a comment on the human species. I see a vulture looking side to side as it slides by overhead, and it looks to me as though it’s artfully and intentionally ignoring the skill of its flight.”

    1. That’s a lovely piece you linked. I was just as taken with the second half of the paragraph from which you quoted: “We sailed past dozens of black-browed albatross, and every one of them — serenely afloat — looked up at me from the waves with the self-confidence of an athlete, effortlessly drifting on the tide and wondering what element humans call their own.” I thought about that for a while this afternoon, and finally decided there might not be any single “human element.” At least, it seems as though some are drifting with a tide I don’t recognize.

      What can’t be denied is the fact that when these ungainly ones finally take to the air, their awkwardness disappears. Well, except for the coots, who are said to be such bad fliers they fly only at night, out of embarassment. I know they fly at night. Whether they’re embarassed, I can’t say.

  11. In our area there has been some chatter about the growth of the cormorant population. I have a video somewhere of a huge flock tearing past my boat, only a few feet above the water. It was like a huge river splitting at bow and flowing back together at stern. Remarkable. The poetry is lovely, and the idea of their laying bare the starkness of the tree works quite nicely.

    1. I’m not surprised about cormorant discussions up there. I didn’t realize what a problem they’ve become in the Great Lakes area until another reader here left a comment about the issue. This is a good overview of the issues.

      I see groups of them flying up a nearby channel from time to time, also very low to the the water. Your description of them as a feathered river is perfect. What a delight it must have been to witness that. I’m always amazed by the control they exhibit: like watching the pelicans just above the water, with their curled wingtips only an inch or two above the surface. Won’t it be nice when you can be out on the water again, and see such marvelous sights?

  12. All the lines that struck others, above, resonated with me, too.
    I give them short shrift. They’re not so graceful or soaring as our pelicans, not so fierce and terrifyingly swift as the peregrines. They go about their business, always working, occasionally stopping to pose.
    I struggled with “without parting day.” I assume that means they split the air without affecting it. For me, the one moment of the poem that didn’t flow, but I’m neither the poet nor critic that you and your many readers are.
    I’ll watch the cormorants more now. Thank you.

    1. That phrase — “without parting day” — stopped me, too. It was like tripping over an unexpected tree trunk fallen across a path.

      I wondered if it might be rooted in a Chinese idiom, since I couldn’t find any English idiom that seemed to fit. Sunset sometimes is called ‘the parting of the day,’ but that didn’t seem quite right. When heavy draperies were the fashion, they had to be pulled away to look outside, and we’d speak of parting the curtains. That seems closer, but still not right.

      I looked at several reviews of the poem, and had to chuckle. Not a single review took on those lines. They’d quote from the beginning and the end of the poem, but “parting day” was noticeable by its absence. The only clue I found was from Lee himself: ““Our bodies look solid, but they aren’t. We’re like a fountain. A fountain of water looks solid, but you can put your fingers right through it. Our bodies look like things, but there’s no thingness to them.” Maybe that’s it. Our days seem solid, but they’re not, and the birds know it. They fly right through them, “without parting day.”

      The next time you meet a cormorant, you might ask him!

  13. How strange that your other post should remind me of the cormorants in The Story about Ping, published in 1933, and, then, here I discover a poem written by a man whose life and poetry was so affected by that turbulent period of Chinese history, through his father’s exile.

    1. It is funny how these things happen. Serendipity strikes again, I suppose. I wondered, somewhat idly, whether the cultural significance of the cormorant in China might somehow be involved. Here, it’s just a bird, but there, it’s a means of making a living, and has been for centuries. It’s presence in the arts and literature no doubt resonate somewhat more than they do here.

      I thought this was fascinating:

      “Bricks depicting paintings of what is thought to be cormorant fishing have been excavated at sites in China, dating to around the first to second century CE. Paintings of what appears to be cormorant fishing have also been found in ruins from ancient Egypt and on earthenware from Peru dating from before Christ. Even in England, James I (1566–1625) is said to have enjoyed cormorant fishing as a practice learned from the Chinese.”

        1. That was the most fascinating detail to me, too. It seems James I ruled just prior to the time when Chinoiserie became so popular. His cormorant fishing certainly could have made him a trend-setter when it came to such things.

    1. The double-crested are the only cormorants in Montana, and there apparently aren’t the hordes that show up in, for example, the upper midwest. This mention of the Clark Fork did catch my eye:

      “At the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area in the ARCO Pond 1 complex, about 65 breeding pairs took up residence this last summer. They appear in the Upper Clark Fork River Valley in late March and a few individuals linger into October before they all leave. I had 12 on my survey at Warm Springs WMA on Sept. 25 this year. They winter on the Pacific Coast and southeastern states. The peak for the Upper Clark Fork River Valley this year was 160 between adults and juveniles in early August.”

      I saw some mentions of other small colonies, but they were some distance from you, like at Lake Bowdoin.

        1. Well, birds are even more mobile than flowers. If conditions don’t suit them in one place, they move on to another. I recently heard a story about some birds that were being tracked this fall: I suppose with GPS devices. They came down on a norther and then, when the winds shifted to strong southerlies, they took off and were back in Arkansas the next day!

  14. I don’t think that I’ve ever seen a cormorant – though I’ve been to areas where I think they live. Maybe I just wasn’t attending to my surroundings. What a fascinating bird!

    1. I’d never been quite this close to one — especially one that allowed me to give him a good once-over with the camera. I was surprised to see how attractive it was, with those lovely feathers and that nice, blue eye. They have an almost prehistoric look to them; I almost can see the dinosaur-like ancestor lurking in the far background.

  15. Great image! I love Cormorants and Anhingas because they are so sculpturesque. They bend their necks and make beautiful curves, and you caught that very nicely in your image. The poem is very nice also.

    1. The ability of cormorants, herons, and egrets to twist and bend their necks is remarkable. Sometimes they do look pretzel-like; it’s great fun to see one preening or showing off. They may not have bright colors or a glorious song, but they’ve made the water their world, and thrive there.

  16. Not sure what happened to my prior comment. Not sure what I wrote either. But I know it had something to do with this being a handsome bird. As well, you put together a nice species study.

    1. Well, at least you know you wrote a comment, so you’re still in the game. I’ve had days when I wasn’t even sure I’d left one. Now that so many people have offered ‘handsome’ as a descriptor rather than ‘beautiful,’ I can see it — but I still can’t come up with a good title that includes ‘handsome,’ so there’s that!

  17. The cormorant is a cool bird… I never have to worry when I say, “Oh, look, it’s a cormorant,” although it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to identify any coastal bird given our desert living. No cormorants here.

    1. No, but I’ll bet you have vultures: another sort of black bird that doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves. I’m not sure I’d call the vultures either handsome or beautiful, but they surely are interesting, and important.

      On the other hand, you have little birds that live in cacti, and burrowing birds, and every sort of feathered lovely that never shows up here. That variety’s what makes blogging so interesting. We get little peeks into parts of the world we’ve never seen, and may never.

    1. Your memory’s accurate. They place rings of some sort (silver or other metal, strong twine, even vines) around the bird’s neck, constricting them so they can’t swallow the big fish they catch. On the other hand, they can swallow the pieces of fish the fishermen cut up for them, so they get plenty to eat. In cultures where this was common, the birds became trained to their task. There are fascinating videos of the birds catching a fish, swimming back to their boat, hopping up on a pole to hand over the fish and then being rewarded with their fishy tidbits.

      The practice has been used not only in China, but also in Korea, Japan, and even Egypt. In England, King James I heard about the practice and it was part of English life for a while. There still are some Vietnamese here who fish with nothing but a hand line and a hook, but I’ve never heard of cormorant fishing in this country.

    1. Isn’t it interesting that every species of cormorant has such jewel-like eyes? There’s another species whose photo I’ve seen (Asian, I think) that has ruby colored eyes. It’s always the details that delight!

  18. Several hundred make up the flocks that often visit near the house. Even if I don’t hear them, they definitely announce their departure, when the flop-flop-flopping of their wings grows stronger and stronger, then almost like a jet lifting off, the sound softens — and then I can look out and see the mass of birds floating to the other side – or arriba to the other end of the reservoir… They provide comfort, as long as I’m not the owner of a nearby shrimp pond!!!

    1. I discovered that we also have your neotropical cormorants in Texas. Their breeding colonies are east and north of here, across Galveston Bay, along the upper coast into Louisiana, and inland. Apparently they tend to share rookeries with herons and egrets, and many of the places where they congregate are in wildlife management areas where public access is restricted.

      I’ve never seen a flock so large as you describe, but I suspect the sound is much like that made by the huge flocks of geese I sometimes see. Even a single cormorant is fun to watch take off from the water, of course. They’re much like coots when they’re getting airborne — it seems like it takes a little more effort than it should!

      1. as long as I don’t own a shrimp pond, the cormorants give me great joy – either just a long one swimming in bliss, or a few hundred – all swimming and facing the same way s if rubber stamped onto the scene.
        I’ve been offline since I left this comment, so today will load what you’ve posted since and enjoy reading at home.

  19. I have come to enjoy cormorants whenever I get a chance to have an encounter with them, all since I did a story about cormorant fishermen in China. I think they are very interesting birds.

    1. I’ve only recently become aware of the birds’ use in fishing. That must have been a fascinating story to document; is it available online, by any chance? I didn’t know that the practice was so widespread until I wrote these posts. Cormorant fishing was practiced even in Egypt, and by King James I of England, who became interested in the practice, and had both birds and handlers brought to England.

      The birds are interesting. I read earlier today in a more detailed article that their primary daily occupations are “fishing and lounging.” I’d say this one, which allowed a full half-hour of picture taking, was definitely in lounging mode!

  20. I’ve always thought birds animate space in the most wonderful way, but I like the idea of revealing it, too. Still, it’s hard for me to accept the cormorant as the bird this poem might be about. :-) I do appreciate them for their wing-drying habits, but not for the problems they bring when they overrun a place (like the Great Lakes). But I don’t know, these issues you hear about must have other sides to the stories too, and often something humans did started the problem. In any case, I can see what Otto’s talking about (above) and your portrait is really well done, the way it gets across that inquisitive expression. :-)

    1. I didn’t realize until I posted this and received some comments that cormorants have been such a problem in the upper midwest and the Great Lakes areas. Since they don’t breed here, we don’t have large colonies, or the issues associated with them. There are two issues, of course: their presumed effect on game fish (which seems to be greatly overblown) and their very real ability to destroy trees in nesting areas because of the acidity of their droppings.

      I found a good overview of the issues done by Michigan State University. Two things caught my attention. First was the fact that “twenty years ago, they were rare on the Great Lakes, and the historical evidence shows that they were not nesting in this area until 1917, when a handful of them were first seen on western Lake Superior.”

      So, they’re native, but the explosion in population is fairly recent, and humans have had a hand in that. The article also notes that “their incredible population explosion was supported by the development of fish farms in the center of the country and the introduction of exotic alewives to the Great Lakes.” The alewives, a kind of herring, are native to the Atlantic ocean. How did they get to the Great Lakes? Via canals constructed by humans.

      So, the problems are real, but they’re also a natural consequence of human activity. The MSU article, dated 2009, also recounts the various ways of depleting cormorant populations that have been used, with some success. I’m not sure where things stand now. What can’t be contested is that the same humans who are trying to get rid of the birds today helped to create the situation in the first place. The whole situation’s clearly akin to what a friend faced when she installed a fish pond at her hill country home. She built it, and “they” came: every heron, raccoon, hawk, and who-knows-what for miles around. After three restockings, she gave up.

    1. It’s always great fun to discover another species of plant or animal that we share with our southern neighbors, and the cormorants are among the most interesting. I do think they’re beautiful, and I’m glad you do, too. I wouldn’t call them ‘pretty,’ exactly but prettiness and beauty aren’t necessarily the same!

  21. I was having difficulty submitting a comment so I just sent a test message and it now seems to be working. Cormorants have been unreasonably persecuted. Many analsyses of their stomach contents have proven time and again that they eat few sports fish, but even if they did it would not justify their merciless destruction. An examination of historical records indicates that they are not close to their historical numbers. Facts and logic are often ignored, however.

    1. I didn’t realize how much conflict cormorants had caused farther north until I wrote this post, and then began exploring the circumstances behind some of the comments. As so often happens, it seems that humans had a hand in creating the conflict that exists today. The establishment of fish farms, and the movement of alewives and other bait fish into the Great Lakes certainly contributed to the growth of the cormorant colonies through the 1900s.

      I did read some of the research that indicates they’re not vacuuming up game fish to the extent that many claim. Fishermen here will complain about them, but it has more to do with their tendency to disturb and displace fish than with their appetite for them. The nesting colonies do create some problems for trees and vegetation, but we have those same issues where the black-crowned night herons and egrets collect.

      I did want to note that, for bird and nature photos, you might want to follow my other blog, Lagniappe. There are links at the top of this page and in the sidebar, where I always include a thumbnail of what’s posted there. I’m hardly a skilled photographer, but I do sometimes find some real gems, like this one of young black-necked stilts dealing with a problem. The life of birds is infinitely interesting, as you know.

  22. Very highly recommended: The Double-crested Cormorant (Plight of a Feathered Pariah) by Linda R. Wires with illustrations by Barry Kent MacKay (2014). This is as much of a commentary on human prejudice and wilful ignorance as it is a well researched treatise on the cormorant. It is as fine a work as I have read in quite a while.

    1. Thanks for the recommendation. I was surprised by the affordable price, and have ordered a copy. I suspect it will be an interesting read, not only because of its examination of issues surrounding the cormorant, but also because of its relevance to wildlife management issues generally.

    1. I’m not certain whether I failed to capture the vibrancy of that blue eye, or whether the bird might have had a less-obviously turquoise or azure eye. In any event, I’ve recently learned the term ‘catchlight,’ and was glad to have that as part of the photo.

      I was glad for the introduction to Li-Young Lee, too. I’ve read more of his work, and enjoyed it.

  23. One of the pleasures of my high-school days was pausing along the walkway alongside and below the Gavins Point Dam. There were plenty of fishermen there (well beyond the currents of the dam releases). Every once in a while, a paddlefish would surface in the roiling waters. The main attraction, for me, though were the cormorants. The turbid waters were full of fish, and those natural fisher birds were constantly coming up with pretty good-sized meals, much to the chagrin of the fisher people bobbing about in their boats. Perhaps the bad rap the cormorant entertains is simply jealousy among fisher folk.

    1. What’s interesting is that scientific study of what cormorants actually eat (never mind the details of those studies!) shows they generally aren’t eating the fish that the fishermen are after. That seems to be true here. The cormorants will eat bait fish, like mullet and menhaden, but I’ve not heard anyone complaining about them going after the trout, redfish, or flounder. Of course, they may favor more game fish up north; I just don’t know.

      What I am sure of is that their ability to produce unbelievable quantities of droppings is a problem. Especially where large colonies nest, they can kill all the plant life that’s around: even trees. And humans have had a hand in creating the problems. If you build fish farms, the cormorants will come.

      All that aside, I love them. They’re funny, and awkward on land, but they’re something to behold in the water. I’m glad you’ve had the pleasure of watching them.

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