Long-necked and nearly all black, the Neotropic Cormorant is a waterbird that plunges into sheltered waters of southern North America. You can usually find these birds along the tropics of North and South America. These snaky Blackbirds are slowly increasing their range northwards in recently. They are fairly conspicuous birds that nest in trees or fly above bodies of water. They may be difficult to distinguish from the smaller Double-crested Cormorant.
About Neotropic Cormorants
Curiously, Neotropic Cormorants are the only birds of their family that plunge into the water from midair in order to catch fish. While it does not dive from great heights, they can be seen diving from within 2 feet into the air. They fish for prey cooperatively. Flocks create a line across the flowing streams and strike the surface repeatedly to scare the fish into motion. Once the fish begin to move, the birds dive and follow them.
These confident birds are fascinating. Their calls resemble piglike grunts, which is why they are called “pig ducks” (pato cerdo, pato Puerco) in Spanish-speaking countries around the tropical regions. Today, we will be learning how to understand these birds better by discussing:
● Neotropic Cormorant Photos, Color Pattern, Song
● Neotropic Cormorant Size, Eating Behavior, Habitat
● Neotropic Cormorant Range and Migration, Nesting
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Neotropic Cormorant Color Pattern
These birds are small with emerald green eyes, grayish bills, and a pale yellow throat pouch that is outlined with a vivid white “V” of feathers. When they are in flight, their necks seem to be as long as their tails.
This species of birds display little to no physical variations between the two sexes. However, adults have different plumages depending on the season. Breeding adults have a small patch of thin, white feathers that line the sides of their head and neck, giving them a streaked appearance. Nonbreeding adults are similar, but have entirely black bodies except for a slight dark-greenish gloss to the back and the upper areas of their wings.
Juveniles are relatively distinct with their yellower bills and brown body feathers overall in their first two years after hatching.
Description and Identification
The easiest way to identify these cormorants is by their appearance and their distinctive low-pitched grunts. They are almost entirely black and often dive for fish as they forage from the water’s surface, much like a duck. Any sheltered body of water can host these diving Cormorants and their related Double-crested Cormorants, with two species mainly differing in their body size, shape, and the color of the throat pouch. During the breeding seasons, close observers can find white stripes along the sides of the head and the neck. With a closer look, one can find their green eyes glistening against their black bodies.
Neotropic Cormorant Song
Neotropic Cormorants are known for their series of low, guttural, piglike grunts or croaks when they are alarmed by disturbances. You can hear these unique throat sounds during the breeding seasons or when large flocks of these birds are fishing together. Males are typically far more vocal than females, with both sexes remaining relatively silent during nonbreeding seasons. Chicks make a series of monotonous and continuous calls when they are hungry. They eventually, develop a more strident quality to their voices.
Neotropic Cormorant Size
Compared to other waterfowl, Neotropic Cormorants are relatively small and slim in build. They are roughly 24 inches in length and weigh around 37.7-52.9 ounces. Neotropic Cormorants have long necks that stand out with their long tails while they are in flight. Their comparatively thin, straight bill that is hooked at the tip also makes them stand out while flying. They have large, webbed feet that resemble those of a duck’s. They have broad wings that can reach a wingspan of 40.2 inches. These proportions make them larger than the average Black-crowned Night-Heron, but smaller than Double-crested Cormorants.
Neotropic Cormorant Behavior
These birds are versatile swimmers as well as strong fliers, owing to their webbed feet and their strong wings. They generally fly with powerful and continuous wingbeats but may occasionally glide through air currents. They generally fly low over water, but remain higher in the air when flying over land. Like other waterfowl, these birds require bodies of water to land on and take-off from. They are not very maneuverable in the air. While swimming, they tend to keep their bodies low in the water and leave only their head and neck above the surface. They may also swim on the surface like ducks while paddling forward with their feet. When they dive underwater, they fold their wings closely towards their chest and use their feet and tail to steer.
Despite being waterbirds, they spend a lot of their time outside the water, often resting, or holding their wings open to dry them. If they stay in water for too long, their plumages hold the risk of becoming waterlogged and subsequently reducing their buoyancy. They frequently preen with their bills.
During the breeding seasons, males select a site to nest on and call for females as they begin to display. Once a female appears, males raise the head and neck while opening the bill and swaying slowly as they give out a long, slow call. Although these birds are generally very sociable and associate with other birds without conflict, they can get aggressive while defending their nest sites. Members of the pair generally only remain together for one breeding season.
Neotropic Cormorant Diet
As waterbirds, Neotropic Cormorants primarily follow a piscivorous diet. They mainly eat fish and shrimp but may also consume insect larvae and amphibians like frogs. They hunt visually and pursue their prey by sight underwater, or on the surface. Neotropic Cormorants hunt in large flocks, with birds creating disturbances around schools of fish to spur them into motion before pursuing them. They may also bait small fish that have gathered near the surface. Among their varied diet, they consume a large variety of freshwater and saltwater fish alike. Their commonly consumed prey includes western mosquitofish, sailfin molly, sheepshead minnow, striped mullet, Atlantic croaker, gulf killifish, bayou topminnow, and the golden topminnow. They also eat bullhead minnow, pugnoe minnow, warmouth, bluegill, pinfish, inland, silverside, common carp, spotted gar, black crappie, white crappie, spotted sunfish, orange-spotted sunfish, redear sunfish. To name a few more, longear sunfish, green sunfish, blacktail shiner, red shiner, golden shiner, bowfin, threadfin shad, gizzard shad, channel catfish, freshwater drum, and largemouth bass.
Neotropic Cormorant Habitat
These birds are highly adaptive and versatile in the range of environments that they occupy. You can find them in a large variety of fresh, brackish, and saltwater wetlands. The populations in the United States are perfectly suited on inland lakes and coastal bays, with the main requirement being plenty of prey and places where they can rest. They may also be at interior river systems, and in high-elevation lakes and streams that go up to 16,000 feet high in altitude. They generally rest on trees, pilings, rocks, islands, duck blinds, or embankments. Along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, they inhabit a wide range of estuaries, lagoons, inlets, and bays. Their habitats are typically sheltered in shallow areas, and they tend to avoid being exposed to high winds and waves. Away from the coast, they use freshwater marshes with open water, wooded swamps, fish farms, borrow pits, lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.
Range and Migration
Neotropic Cormorants are mostly permanent residents of their habitats. Their range stretches throughout the American tropics and subtropics, from the Gulf and Californian coasts and the middle of Rio Grande, through Mexico and Central America, to southern South America. They thrive in tropical climates and typically remain in the regions around their breeding grounds throughout the year, although birds nesting inland may travel south during the winters. Some birds may also occasionally wander northwards during the summer.
Neotropic Cormorant Lifecycle
Breeding seasons commence with the males advertising for females at their selected nesting sites. Interested females reciprocate approach the males and then the pair mates. Both parents build the nest and incubate 2-5 bluish-white eggs for around 25-30 days. After the eggs hatch, the chicks emerge in a completely naked and helpless state. Young ones learn to swim and dive at 8 weeks, but both parents feed the young for 11 weeks until they are fully independent.
Nest sites are selected by the males at the beginning of the breeding season. They find a spot in a small tree that is often dead, or at a tall shrub. Sometimes, they may be found nesting on a manmade structure or on the ground as well. Once a female has been found, both members of the pair construct a loosely bound platform for sticks with a central depression. The inner depression is then lined with twigs, leaves, grass, feathers, small bones, shells, or algae. The resulting nests are generally around 13.5 inches across and 5.6 inches tall, with the interior bowl about 8.4 inches across and 2.2 inches deep.
Anatomy of a Neotropic Cormorant
Neotropic Cormorants are slim waterfowl that are relatively small. They have a long neck, a similarly long tail, and a thin, straight bill that is hooked in the end. Neotropic Cormorants have broad wings that help them take powerful strides when they fly. They also have large, webbed feet that serve as a paddle of sorts when they swim.
These diving birds were traditionally not found beyond Texas in the United States, but human activities and habitat depletion has pushed their populations beyond their original range. Although their Texan populations suffered a massive decline in the 1960s, their general populations have been steadily increasing throughout the United States over the past few decades. While their populations seem to be doing well, main threats include farmers shooting them at fish and shrimp farms, and human disturbances at their nesting colonies.
Neotropic Cormorants are a delight to catch sight of, with their smooth diving displays and their piglike grunts have only scratched the tip of everything that is special about this bird. They are markedly conspicuous and they maintain their distance from humans in general. However, flocks of them are fortunately fairly easy to spot from a distance. So, if you are an enthusiast that is visiting the American tropics any time soon, keep your eye out for them around a sheltered body of water as they go about their day!
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Bird Watching Binoculars for Identifying Neotropic Cormorants
The most common types of bird watching binoculars for viewing Neotropic Cormorants are 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. Bird Watching Academy & Camp sells really nice 8×21 binoculars and 10×42 binoculars. You can view and purchase them here.
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Neotropic Cormorant Stickers
Stickers are a great way for you to display your love for bird watching and the Neotropic Cormorant. We sell a monthly subscription sticker pack. The sticker packs have 12 bird stickers. These sticker packs will help your kids learn new birds every month.
Bird Feeders For Neotropic Cormorants
There are many types of bird feeders. Bird feeders are a great addition to your backyard. Bird feeders will increase the chances of attracting birds drastically. Both kids and adults will have a great time watching birds eat at these bird feeders. There are a wide variety of bird feeders on the market and it is important to find the best fit for you and your backyard.
Bird Houses For Neotropic Cormorants
There are many types of bird houses. Building a bird house is always fun but can be frustrating. Getting a bird house for kids to watch birds grow is always fun. If you spend a little extra money on bird houses, it will be well worth every penny and they’ll look great.