How wet does a Cormorant get?

Phalacrocorax Carbo
Phalacrocorax Carbo

Cormorant, like most animals, are naturally buoyant which doesn’t help when you earn your living by diving for fish. What I didn’t know, until I looked it up, was that cormorants and their close relatives the darters decrease their buoyancy by having easily saturated plumage.

Phalacrocorax Carbo
After a massive shake, this bird is still very wet

The microstructure of the feathers allows water to spread across the barbules, reducing the number and size of the air pockets between the water droplets and so increasing the amount of water within the structure of the feather.

Cormorant
Drying out nicely

The downside to this evolutionary strategy is the difficulty the birds have in shedding water after a dive. Which brings me to the contentious issue of why do cormorants stand for hours with their wings spread? Depending on which theory you subscribe to the behaviour is either to aid digestion after feeding, defend their territory or to dry out.

Getting ready for the full stretch.
Getting ready for the full stretch.

With so much now known about the hydrophobicity of their feathers and having personally watched the violent fully body shake immediately after leaving the water, I’m inclined to go with the drying out theory. They shed an enormous amount of water when they shake, but still look wet afterwards. I do wonder about the extended open beak behaviour. They don’t make a noise, just open up and almost gag; as if they have something stuck in the throat and are stretching the neck muscles and then contracting them to move it down.

The full stretch.
The full stretch.

As to issues with territory. I’ve not seen anything to suggest that they defend a particular area. There are at least a dozen birds on Cheddar Reservoir and they all use the bouys for drying.

Gently rotating on the bouy.
Gently rotating on the bouy.
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Author: Hares on the Hill

I am a designer and photographer. I live with my wife and our two dogs in the Welsh Marches, a land full of history, legends, mountains, rivers and dragon's breath; a place where animism thrives. To our north are the Cambrian Mountains, the Elenydd, a vast plateau so ancient that its mountains now have the appearance of steeply rounded moorland hills; to the east is England; to the south stand the Black Mountains and in the west the Brecon Beacons rise around the twin summits of Pen y Fan and Corn Du, the highest mountain in West Wales.

1 thought on “How wet does a Cormorant get?”

  1. What a wonderful collection you have assembled here.
    We have so many of these beautiful birds in Florida, they are always sitting somewhere drying off~
    You should come here with your camera, you would never get a moments rest!

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