Return of Bird of the Week: Brandt’s Cormorant


Brandt’s Cormorant, California

We’re continuing our more or less northerly trending review of Western Hemisphere cormorants. This week it’s a cormorant species endemic to the western coast of North America, from Alaska to Mexico, Brandt’s Cormorant.

Brandt’s Cormorant, Monterey, California

Brandt’s Cormorant is a a mostly black species, showing blue-purple highlight in bright light. There is a bluish patch under its chin, more extensive in breeding season. The bluish bill area is backed by a variable paler patch. Juveniles and subadults are browner.

Brandt’s were first cataloged by a Russian naturalist, J. F. Brandt, after whom the species is named. Prof. Brandt, of the Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg, first described Brandt’s Cormorant in 1838. His description was based on a specimen, now missing, of unknown origin and unknown collector, which he found among the skins at the Zoological Museum at St. Petersburg. Perhaps a naturalist was among the Russian-Americans or Russian-Alaskans?

Subadult Brandt’s Cormorant, Sitka Sound, Alaska

WC documented a Brandt behavior WC was unable to find reported in the literature. Long-time readers may recall WC’s report of Humpback Whale bubble net feeding in the waters off Monterey, California. Every fish-eating animal in the Western Pacific Ocean seemed to be present, ranging from seals and sea lions to murres. The Humpbacks’ team hunting leaves lots of stunned bait fish at or near the surface. Among the animals taking advantage of that bonanza was a Brandt’s.

Bubble net-feeding Humpbacks; Brandt’s Cormorant circled in red in lower left
Bubble net-feeding Humpbacks, two Brandt’s center left

While the literature describes Brandt’s joining other birds in hunting near-surface schools of baitfish, none that WC could find reported joining in the surplus from Humpback bubble net feeding like this.

IUCN classifies Brandt’s Cormorant as a species of Least Concern, but others are more worried. The species seems particularly susceptible to commercial fishing lines, and its reproductive success is closely tied to the El Niño Effect, specifically the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), which determines the timing and degree of nutrient-rich upwelling, and hence food availability.

For more bird photographs, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

2 thoughts on “Return of Bird of the Week: Brandt’s Cormorant

  1. The first shot is pretty impressive with all the feather detail you were able to get on an all-black potential photon sink. It must have been something else to be in the presence of the Humpbacks feeding and bird free-for-all as well.

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  2. Pingback: FYI January 23, 2022 – Instagatrix

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