Double-crested Cormorant (Nannopterum auritum) Emilie Keas photo

Double-crested Cormorants such as this one may often be seen spreading their wings, and it’s generally assumed that the purpose is to get the wings dry. Unlike most other birds, cormorants’ feathers aren’t normally oiled up enough to repel water. Cormorants’ wings get wet. It’s thought that wet wings give the birds an advantage under water, where they do their hunting. They’re very fast and maneuverable, and eat whatever species is available.

However, the theory that cormorants spread their wings to dry them doesn’t convince everyone. Researchers have noticed that cormorants will stand and spread their wings on days without sun and even in the rain. There’s speculation that the real purpose is to stretch the flight muscles.

Cormorants do have the oil gland at the base of their wings near the tail, and they apply its secretions not only to their feathers but also to their legs and feet. Photographer Emilie Keas, who took the photo above, caught the bird accessing its preen gland, photo below left. She also got a picture of the bird running one of its flight feathers through its bill, below right.

These are very nice photos. Thank you, Emilie, for sharing.

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One thought on “Basking

  • Interesting confusion(?) by some sources that one would think are the ‘experts’ on the topic, e.g., CSUSB or The Cornell Lab. Both say that the cormorant does not have an oil gland; yet various other sources state that they do have the uropygial gland; and furthermore, that their feathers are oiled / oily, as you indicated above.

    As for “Cormorants do have the oil gland at the base of their wings”, the oil gland is located in the same place as on other species of birds, on the back near the tail, not at the base of their wings.

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