Cormorant: Raven of the Sea

Caitlin Dempsey


Cormorants are a family of about 40 aquatic birds, mostly of medium to large size.  All species of cormorants are fish-eaters, catching their prey by diving underwater.  

Where are Cormorants Found?

Found in tropical and temperate climates, most variations of cormorants have dark feathers.  It’s this dark coloring that gives the cormorant its name.  

Cormorant is a contraction of the Latin words corvus marīnus, meaning “sea raven”.

The Most Numerous Cormorant in North America

The most common and widespread cormorant in North America is the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). This cormorant is the only cormorant found in the Midwest.

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The double-crested cormorant can be found as north as the Aleutian Islands in Alaska and south to Mexico.

The double-crested cormorant breeds locally throughout all coasts, as well as in Mexico, Belize, the Bahamas, and Cuba.

The majority of cormorants spend their winters along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico, the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts from North Carolina to Belize, and inland on ice-free locations along large rivers and lakes.

Cormorants along the West Coast are generally year-round residents while cormorants in other locations are migratory.

A black waterbird sits on a small long in the water.
A double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) in Northern California. Photo: Caitlin Dempsey.

What is a Flock of Cormorants Called?

A group of cormorants is called a “gulp.”

A black waterbird preening its wing over the greenish water.
Cormorant preening in Homosassa Springs, Florida. Photo: Randolph Femmer, USGS. Public domain, 2008.

Why do Cormorants Stretch Their Wings Out?

Post diving, cormorants can often be seen resting on rocks and in trees, wings outstretched in cruciform form to dry.

Cormorants don’t have waterproofed feathers and use “wing-spreading” as a way to dry out their feathers.

Cormorants in palm (Copernicia alba) along Rio Negro River in Pantanal.
Cormorants stretch their wings out to dry after diving in the water. Photo: Andrea Grosse, John P. Mosesso. Public domain, USGS, 2004.

See Also

  • Listen to the Orthian Calls of the Lyre Bird
  • These Upright Birds are the Smallest Chickens in the World
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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.