Bird #374 — Neotropic Cormorant

phalacrocorax (from phalakros, bald, and kora, crow) brasilianus

Monday, May 17, 1999 — 12:05 pm

Barrington, Illinois — Crabtree Nature Center

This Neotropic Cormorant showed up on IBET. It was first reported last Thursday, and I heard about it on Friday when Jim, Tim, Mark and I did a big day.  We decided to stick to our plan and hope the bird stayed around.

This morning I saw it was still being reported on Sunday, so I told the guys I was going at lunch. Mark said, “Unless it’s raining.” I replied, “Unless it’s thundering, I’m going.” And then, ten minutes before we were going to leave, the skies opened and it poured.  I called and told the guys I was still going. As I was walking across the parking lot to my car, there was a big flash and a boom of thunder. We went anyway. The rain was acting like a typical summer shower, intense and brief, and it didn’t disappoint. By the time we had reached Crabtree, it had slowed to a drizzle, and as we started walking, it stopped.

We set up in the blind on Crabtree Lake and began scoping the mud flats.  On the left side, there were about 10 Double-crested Cormorants lined up. None of them looked small, so I shifted and looked at the flats on the right side of the island. I immediately saw a cormorant that looked considerably smaller than the first 10. It was pretty far away, but we saw enough to convince us.

It was standing on the mud, looking leisurely back and forth. Its head, neck and bill were slimmer and smaller than the Double-crested Cormorant’s. It was dark, with some dark brown plumage on the back and wings. Its throat pouch was much smaller than that on the Double-cresteds. It looked pale orange and came to a point below and behind the eye. I saw no white border on the pouch, but I wasn’t close enough to say for sure there wasn’t a thin, pale one that blended with the pouch. Its lores were black. While I was watching it, a Double-crested Cormorant was swimming back and forth in front of it, within a few feet. It gave me a great chance to compare the two species, and I could plainly see the larger, orange throat pouch that cut straight down from the bill and the yellow lores of the larger bird.

At one point, the Neotropic Cormorant bent forward and let loose a stream of white gush. As it did so, it cocked its tail upward, and I could see that it was proportionately quite a bit longer than the tail of the Double-cresteds. Apart from that exciting moment, it didn’t do much. It poked its bill into its wing feathers a couple times and briefly spread its wings a couple times. When it did this, I could get a good sense of how much smaller this bird was.

There was one odd thing. The bird had a distinct white collar around the neck near the base. I’m not sure if this was white feathering, or a bald spot, or maybe even a band, but at times I got the impression it didn’t go all the way around the neck. After we all got our fill, we walked the trail past Sulky Pond, but we didn’t see much else.

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