Editors note: Fisheries managers hold great concern for damage caused by double-crested cormorants (water turkey). Each fall, we reprint this article as a reminder to be vigilant. Water turkey are migratory and beginning their seasonal trek to our region. Monitor activity closely. If a friend has a pond, please share this information.
Cormorants are found from southern Alaska to Mexico. They have dark plumage. Body length is 2 to 3-feet. Webbed feet make them excellent swimmers. They eat primarily fish. They hunt by swimming and diving. Cormorants may dive 5 to 25-feet for 30 to 70-seconds. Small fish may be consumed beneath the surface. Large prey often is brought to the surface before eaten. If you have noticed a long scratch on fish during winter or early spring, it may have been caused by a cormorant’s sharp beak.
This efficient predator is an opportunistic hunter. It typically catches 2 to 6-inch fish of any species and may eat a pound or more daily. Scout birds locate prospective feeding grounds and return with large flocks. It’s not uncommon to see 20 or more than 100, depending on lake size. They can significantly damage a bass forage base in a few days. Fish farmers tell stories of entire hatchery ponds being wiped-out. One large operation in Arkansas has almost 1,000-acres of ponds divided by levees. Employees drive 700 to 800-miles a day on levees attempting to chase cormorants away.
Since feathers are not fully waterproof, they spend long periods extending wings to dry feathers for flight. Average life span is 6-years. Once threatened by DDT, the chemical was banned. Since the product was discontinued, numbers have increased dramatically. Population gains are attributed to feeding opportunities at aquaculture ponds in southern wintering grounds. In flight, their v-formation resembles a flock of geese. Note, cormorants have longer tails and don’t call or communicate in flight. Geese commonly call and have short, stubby tails.
Be aware of cormorants and devise a management plan to discourage visitation. They are bold critters. You can chase them away in the morning. They may return in a few hours. Like most migratory species, cormorants are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is no hunting season. If you feel they threaten the viability of your lake, contact local game wardens or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for predation permits and management options.