Waterfowl enthusiasts scan fall skies excitedly searching for migrations of ducks and geese that signal-hunting season. Pondmeisters scan fall skies dreading return of the villain double-crested cormorant or “water turkey”.
Cormorants move among warm climates from southern Alaska to Mexico. They have dark plumage and a body length of two to three feet. Webbed feet make them excellent swimmers. They eat primarily fish and hunt by swimming and diving. Cormorants may dive five to 25 feet for 30 to 70 seconds. Smaller fish may be consumed beneath the surface, but larger prey often is brought to the surface before eaten.
This efficient predator is an opportunistic hunter. It typically catches two to six-inch fish of any species and may eat a pound or more daily. Large flocks can significantly damage a bass’ forage base. If you’ve noticed a long scratch on a fish during winter or early spring, it may have been caused by a cormorant’s sharp beak.
Since feathers are not fully waterproof, they spend long periods with wings extended to dry feathers. Average life span is six years. Once threatened by DDT, numbers have increased. Population gains are attributed to feeding opportunities at aquaculture ponds in southern wintering grounds. They have been blamed for declines in sport fisheries and fish farming operations. Cormorants may gather in large numbers. In flight, they resemble a flock of geese.
Like most migratory species, cormorants are regulated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There is no hunting season. If you feel cormorants threaten the viability of your lake, contact the USFWS for management options.