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Facts & Profile
The great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), known as the black shag in New Zealand and formerly also known as the great black cormorant across the Northern Hemisphere, the black cormorant in Australia, and the large cormorant in India, is a widespread member of the cormorant family of seabirds. The genus name is Latinised Ancient Greek, from φαλακρός (phalakros, "bald") and κόραξ (korax, "raven"), and carbo is Latin for "charcoal".
It breeds in much of the Old World, Australia, and the Atlantic coast of North America.
Description & appearance
The great cormorant is a large black bird, but there is a wide variation in size in the species' wide range. Weight is reported to vary from 1.5 kg (3.3 lb) to 5.3 kg (12 lb). Males are typically larger and heavier than females, with the nominate race (P. c. carbo) averaging about 10% larger in linear measurements than the smallest race in Europe (P. c. sinensis). The lightest average weights cited are in Germany (P. c. sinensis), where 36 males averaged 2.28 kg (5.0 lb) and 17 females averaged 1.94 kg (4.3 lb). The highest come from Prince Edward Island in Canada (P. c. carbo), where 11 males averaged 3.68 kg (8.1 lb) and 11 females averaged 2.94 kg (6.5 lb). Length can vary from 70 to 102 cm (28 to 40 in) and wingspan from 121 to 160 cm (48 to 63 in).
They are tied as the second largest extant species of cormorant after the flightless cormorant, with the Japanese cormorant averaging at a similar size. In bulk if not in linear dimensions, the Blue-eyed shag species complex of the Southern Oceans are scarcely smaller at average. It has a longish tail and yellow throat-patch. Adults have white patches on the thighs and on the throat in the breeding season. In European waters it can be distinguished from the common shag by its larger size, heavier build, thicker bill, lack of a crest and plumage without any green tinge. In eastern North America, it is similarly larger and bulkier than double-crested cormorant, and the latter species has more yellow on the throat and bill and lack the white thigh patches frequently seen on great cormorants.
A very rare variation of the great cormorant is caused by albinism. The Phalacrocorax carbo albino suffers from poor eyesight and/or hearing, thus it rarely manages to survive in the wild.
Voice, singing & call
Great cormorants are mostly silent, but they make various guttural noises at their breeding colonies.
Distribution & habitat
This is a very common and widespread bird species. It feeds on the sea, in estuaries, and on freshwater lakes and rivers. Northern birds migrate south and winter along any coast that is well-supplied with fish.
In Serbia, the cormorant lives in Vøjvodìñâ. However, after 1945 many artificial lakes were formed in Serbia; some of them became potential habitats for cormorants. Currently, on the Lake Ćelije, formed in 1980, there is a resident colony of cormorants, who nest there and are present throughout the year, except January–February 1985 and February 2012 when the lake surface was completely frozen.
The type subspecies, P. c. carbo, is found mainly in Atlantic waters and nearby inland areas: on western European coasts and east across the Palearctic to Siberia and to North Africa, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland; and on the eastern seaboard of North America, though in America it breeds only in the north of its range, in the Canadian maritime provinces. The subspecies P. c. novaehollandiae is found in Australian waters.
Hunting & food
The great cormorant feeds on fish caught through diving. This bird feeds primarily on wrasses, but it also takes sand smelt, flathead and common soles. The average weight of fish taken by great cormorants increased with decreasing air and water temperature, being 30 g during summer, 109 g during a cold winter and 157 g during the cold winter (all values for non-breeding birds). Cormorants consume all fish of appropriate size that they are able to catch in summer and noticeably select for larger, mostly torpedo-shaped fish in winter. Thus, the winter elevation of foraging efficiency described for cormorants by various researchers is due to capturing larger fish not due to capturing more fish. In some freshwater systems, the losses of fish due to overwintering great cormorants were estimated to be up to 80 kg per ha each year (e.g. Vltava River, Czech Republic).
This cormorant forages by diving and capturing its prey in its beak. The duration of its dives is around 28 seconds, with the bird diving to depths of about 5.8 metres (19 ft). About 60% of dives are to the benthic zone and about 10% are to the pelagic zone, with the rest of the dives being to zones in between the two. Studies suggest that their hearing has evolved for underwater usage, possibly aiding their detection of fish. These adaptations also have a cost on their hearing ability in air which is of lowered sensitivity.
Breeding, mating, chicks, juveniles & raise
The great cormorant often nests in colonies near wetlands, rivers, and sheltered inshore waters. Pairs will use the same nest site to breed year after year. It builds its nest, which is made from sticks, in trees, on the ledges of cliffs, and on the ground on rocky islands that are free of predators.
This cormorant lays a clutch of three to five eggs that measure 63 by 41 millimetres (2.5 by 1.6 in) on average. The eggs are a pale blue or green, and sometimes have a white chalky layer covering them. These eggs are incubated for a period of about 28 to 31 days.
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