Why They’re Called Double-Crested

Cormorant showing tufts of feathers on each side of head
Rear view of Cormorant showing head tufts

I knew the name, of course.  Looked it up on the web.  Cormorant with yellow beak, orange face, and all that, means Double-crested.  But until yesterday I didn’t know where the name came from.  Quite a few of these cormorants around, always with smooth, slicked-back heads.

Then, in the afternoon, I saw this little group of five cormorants paddling southward in a leisurely way off the west edge of the park.  Looking through the camera’s long zoom, two of these birds had sprouts of hair on either side of their heads.  They were too far away and the light was exactly the wrong way to get sharp detail, but you can get the general idea.  Two feathered crests on their heads.  Ergo: double-crested.

The Cornell bird lab website says that these crests are only visible during the breeding season.  The Audubon website says that the tufts are rarely seen in the field.  So, I count this as a cool sighting.


The Cornell bird lab website has these “Cool Facts” about Double-crested Cormorants:

  • From a distance, Double-crested Cormorants are dark birds with snaky necks, but up-close they’re quite colorful—with orange-yellow skin on their face and throat, striking aquamarine eyes that sparkle like jewels, and a mouth that is bright blue on the inside.
  • The double-crest of the Double-crested Cormorant is only visible on adults during breeding season. The crests are white in cormorants from Alaska, and black in other regions.
  • Cormorants often stand in the sun with their wings spread out to dry. They have less preen oil than other birds, so their feathers can get soaked rather than shedding water like a duck’s. Though this seems like a problem for a bird that spends its life in water, wet feathers probably make it easier for cormorants to hunt underwater with agility and speed.
  • Double-crested Cormorant nests often are exposed to direct sun. Adults shade the chicks and also bring them water, pouring it from their mouths into those of the chicks.
  • In breeding colonies where the nests are placed on the ground, young cormorants leave their nests and congregate into groups with other youngsters (creches). They return to their own nests to be fed.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The oldest known Double-crested Cormorant was at least 22 years, 6 months old; it was banded in Ontario in 1984 and found in Louisiana in 2006.


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