Double-Crested Cormorant: Not a Fisherman’s Friend

By Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle

There’s a big, black bird hanging out in Hayes and Plummer lakes in Centralia — the double-crested cormorant.

That could be good news or bad news, depending upon your point of view.

The good news is if you see a cormorant hanging around, you know there’s fish to be found because the cormorant wouldn’t stay anywhere there wasn’t an abundance of food.

The bad news is a cormorant can eat a lot of fish — a lot of fish that local fishermen would like to get a chance to catch.
According to Stacie Kelsey, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Inland Fish Program for Southwest Washington, the cormorant is a controversial bird.

The double-crested cormorant is a social bird who likes to travel with a large crowd of friends. Up to 30 cormorants have been seen recently on Plummer Lake in Centralia, which the WDFW regularly stocks with trout.

“When they’re stocking the lakes, the cormorants will work together to herd the fish into the shallows, surrounding them and then they consume them,” Kelsey said. “It’s quite a problem.”

And it’s a hot topic of concern. There are organizations and websites dedicated solely to the double-crested cormorant, whose range extends across the nation. The organizations are either pro or con; there doesn’t seem to be any in between opinions — they either want them dead or alive.

“We’ve tried multiple harassment projects,” said Kelsey, designed to encourage the large birds to relocate.

“We even tried a floating fake crocodile on a lake,” said Kelsey, “but that only worked for a couple of days.”

Kelsey said the WDFW has been considering increasing the size of the fish they stock in areas the cormorants frequent — the cormorant isn’t known to be able to eat a fish over 14 inches in length — but they fear the cormorant will just move on to another feeding ground.

“The cormorants do some lake hopping,” said Becky Pogue of Offut Lake Resort in Tenino. “We see them here, but they don’t stay long.”

A local retiree and avid fisherman, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he doesn’t remember ever seeing a cormorant until about 10 years ago. Now, he said, they are a common site at Swofford Pond near Mossyrock, along the Cowlitz at Blue Creek and at Hayes Lake in Centralia.

You can often see them perched in a dead tree at the Bridge Street Park in Centralia, along Hayes Lake, he said.
“We call them Poop-a-Quarts,” said the unnamed fisherman with a grimace, “but we don’t really use the word poop.”

The fecal matter of double-crested cormorant is highly acidic. Nothing lives for long beneath the perch of a cormorant, another reason why the cormorant isn’t widely loved.

As mating season approaches, many of the local birds will leave the area, leaving only non-breeders behind.
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Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer based in Cinebar. She can be contacted at kz@tds.net.
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Cool Cormorant Facts

If disturbed at the nest, cormorants regurgitate partially-digested food at the intruder.

The double-crested cormorant makes a bulky nest of sticks and other materials. It frequently picks up junk, such as rope, deflated balloons, fishnet, and plastic debris to incorporate into the nest. Parts of dead birds are commonly used too.

Large pebbles are occasionally found in cormorant nests, and the cormorants treat them as eggs.

Accumulated fecal matter below nests can kill the nest trees. When this happens, the cormorants may move to a new area or they may simply shift to nesting on the ground.

Since their feathers are not completely waterproofed, they sit facing the sun and spread their wings out to dry.

Cormorants swim low in the water like loons and hold their bills tilted upwards. They have snake-like necks.

— Source: The Cornell Lab of Orinthology, www.allaboutbirds.org.

Identifying the Cormorant

Blackish overall, sometimes with a greenish gloss

Juvenile birds are coppery brown, lighter underneath

Green eyes

Thin, hook-tipped, gray bill with yellowish throat pouch

Long neck, long tail, black webbed feet

Breeding birds develop fine, white “eyebrow” plumes in spring

In flight, long wings, short tail, bent neck