Big Gulp

Double-crested Cormorants (Nannopterum auritum)

“Gulp” is the term of art for a flock of cormorants. You can usually see a few Double-crested Cormorants on the breakwater just west of the parking circle at the end of Spinnaker Way. On this occasion, my camera caught a big gulp. Some message had gone out to cormorants in the wider area to come and assemble on this narrow roost at this time, and they came. And came. And came. They landed practically on top of each other. They looked like the NY subway at rush hour. Bills snapped and wing-elbows flexed. A few birds got pushed off the side and found a spot on the pilings below. When the influx ceased, there must have been several hundred.

What was the occasion? Whenever a lot of birds congregate in one spot, the question of communication rises in my mind. How did they know to come there at that time? When more than a hundred pelicans assemble from different directions to hunt herring or anchovies, I can believe that a few birds act as scouts and go tell the others, or in the alternative that the different groups all remember or suspect that fish are running at this spot this time of year and independently come for that material reason. But what brought these cormorants together? Nobody was serving lunch there. I saw no hanky-panky; the season for that is over. The birds were silent, not making conversation. It wasn’t freezing cold — just the opposite — so they weren’t huddling for warmth. It was morning, so they weren’t settling in to sleep. What brought them together in these numbers here? I looked at the write-ups and found only general observations that these birds tend to be very social (when they aren’t being solitary). I’m afraid this Big Gulp is another entry in my MATWOB file (Mysterious Are The Ways Of Birds).

Double-crested (left) and Pelagic

A bit earlier, before the birds arrived in large numbers, at the far end of the concrete structure a Double-crested Cormorant and a Pelagic Cormorant stood facing one another. Apart from occasionally looking at each other, they had no interaction. The smaller Pelagic held its position throughout the mass gathering of Double-crested. The other birds left it alone, and it remained the sole member of its ilk. Whatever bell had rung applied only to the Double-crested.

I had seen a solo Pelagic Cormorant, perhaps the same individual, in this spot in previous visits. Pelagics can be seen here with some frequency but are not nearly as common as their larger and more colorful cousins. When seen, they are usually solitary. To see as many as three or four Pelagics in a gulp is an occasion.

Save the Owls!

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6 thoughts on “Big Gulp

  • September 15, 2022 at 1:38 pm
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    Hi: The Recreation, Parks and Waterfront Commission meeting last night on zoom directed us, the owl folks, to the Civic Arts Commission because they were funded to create/design the original fence, now inadequate to protect the owls for whom it was designed at Chavez Park in the nature preserve for migrating birds. Changing the fence will involve talking to them. Please send them your comments and urge them to make this fence protect the owls. Direct coments to: civicarts@cityofberkeley.info maureen

  • September 15, 2022 at 3:32 am
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    Those cormorants were probably out fishing (as a group) and when the fishing was exhausted (momentarily?), the birds flew off to dry out for a while, again as a group.

    While not the typical spread-winged pose that we often see solitary individuals strike, it is notable in Marty’s video that many of the individuals in the flock do have their wings spread. Also notable is that most of the incoming (flying) individuals seem to have really ragged wing and tail feathers –perhaps a sign that their feathers are quite wet?

  • September 15, 2022 at 3:23 am
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    Here are some interesting additional observations from 80+ years ago on the behavior of local East Bay double-crested cormorants.

    The gulp probably stopped there to confer on where that power line was located….. ;>)

    The Fishing Activities of Double-Crested Cormorants on San Francisco Bay
    Author(s): George A. Bartholomew, Jr.
    Source: The Condor, Vol. 44, No. 1 (Jan. – Feb., 1942), pp. 13-21
    Published by: Oxford University Press

    “All the Double-crested Cormorants on the central part of San Francisco Bay,
    California, roost at night on a power line running from Brooks Island to
    the Bay.”

  • September 14, 2022 at 9:52 pm
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    Wow!!! Amazing video of the gulp of cormorants. Thank you for posting it today.

  • September 14, 2022 at 6:37 pm
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    Regarding toilets at Chavez Park, how do these new toilets work? are we wanting a sewer system dug in? Is it deep enough? How much fresh water will that take now in a time of draught? How much would that cost? What about compost toilets? Bolinas has them. Please give a clearer picture of “BETTER TOILETS”. THANK YOU. IF I SAID THIS BEFORE I DID NOT GET ANY RESPONSE.

  • September 14, 2022 at 6:35 pm
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    Regarding toilets at Chavez Park, how do these new toilets work? are we wanting a sewer system dug in? Is it deep enough? How much fresh water will that take now in a time of draught? How much would that cost? What about compost toilets? Bolinas has them. Please give a clearer picture of “BETTER TOILETS”. THANK YOU.

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