Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Birds to look for #3 Double-crested Cormorant and Anhinga

I am discussing these two species together because of their similarity of appearance and behavior.   From now through April, Double-crested Cormorants will be one of our most conspicuous and numerous waterbirds in urban waterways and shorelines- perhaps second only to the two common species of gulls (Ring-billed and Laughing). Cormorants are goose-sized birds with long necks and hefty bodies, and are mostly or wholy black.  The only significant non-black plumage is found on immatures, which have a pale breast and foreneck.  Cormorants are conspicuous along our waterways, perching on pylons and breakwaters in the Lake, on pipes that cross above our roadway canals, even sitting on high tension towers.  Out of the water they sit rather upright, and appear somewhat hunched.  Their legs are short, making them hard to confuse with our other long-necked birds (herons, egrets, and ibis).  When swimming, the neck is the primary part of the bird visible, although the back also shows.  The beak is usually held up at an angle.

Anhingas are similar to Cormorants, in their size, shape, primarily black coloration, and habit of sitting with wings stretched to dry. Anhingas are less common than cormorants in winter, but a dozen can still be seen in a day with luck.  A congregation may form "passively" when several choose to fish the same body of water, but they otherwise tend not to flock (except while actively migrating).  They are most often seen perched around shorelines, most commonly on the branches of trees, usually not too far above the water (cormorants will perch higher up more readily).  They are frequently visible along the bayous at Audubon Park and at Couturie Forest in City Park, on the edges of the lake in Lafreniere Park, and elsewhere.  In summer (May-Sep), cormorants will leave, making the Anhinga the much-more-likely species to see.

The main distinguishing features of Anhingas are:
1) longer tail, with a buff tip.
2) stilleto-shaped beak (cormorants have a slight bulbous hooked tip).
3) on females and immatures, pale neck and breast that forms a crisp border with the black belly (cormorants have a fuzzy boundary).
4) white flecking on the upper parts
5) in the water, Anhingas sit lower- often only the neck shows.  This snake-like appearance is the source of a colloquial moniker for the species:  Snake bird.
6) Anhingas have a somewhat freakish, prehistoric look to them.

Anhingas in the air are usually seen soaring in circles; cormorants fly with beating, direct flight.  Anhingas in the air have an odd cross-like shape- the neck, tail, and wings are strangely similar in length, and held at approximately right angles when soaring.

Although the Neotropical Cormorant occurs in the western part of the state, regularly even as close as Baton Rouge, it reaches the New Orleans area only infrequently.  Any cormorant in the area covered by Birding Made Easy-New Orleans can be assumed Double-crested.

Finallly, don't get side-tracked looking for the "double crest" of the Double-crested Cormorant- it is usually not visible.

Good birding,


For a copy of Birding Made Easy-New Orleans, email me at birding.made.easy.new.orleans@gmail.com, or look for it at area book stores.  It is now available at
Uptown:  Garden District Book Shop, Maple Street Book Shop, Octavia Books
French Quarter and Marigny:  Peach Records, Fauborg Marigny Art Books Music, Librairie Book Shop, Beckham's Bookshop, Arcadian Books and Prints, the Crabnet
Mid City:  City Park Botanical Garden, Community Book Center
Metairie:  Double M Feed on W. Esplanade
Harahan:  Double M Feed on Jefferson Hwy
North Shore:  Mandeville Chiropractic

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