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Studer, Jacob Henry, 1840-1904. / Birds of North America
(1903)

Plate XIII. Townsend's cormorant. (Phalacrocorax townsendii.),   pp. 13-14


Plate XIV. The great northern diver loon. (Colymbus glacialis.),   p. 14


Page 14


N CORMORANT-DIVER LOON.
traveler; but the island is, of course, most attractive when it is occu-
pied by Cormorants. There they sit arranged in rows or lines, on
the rocks, in the most picturesque positions, and all facing the sea.
Rarely can one be seen sitting apart from the rest. They usually
wear a stiff, statue-like appearance; but sometimes each bird is
seen to move some part of the body, either the neck, wings, or tail.
The object of these movements doubtless is to dry their feathers.
After ten or fifteen minutes, they become quiet, merely basking in
the sun. On such occasions, each Cormorant seems to have a par-
ticular place which he always occupies.
Cormorants walk with extreme difficulty. Some observers have
said that these birds can only walk when they support themselves
by their tails. This supposition has evidently arisen from the fact
that the tail portion of the Cormorant's body is stiff, like that of the
Woodpecker. Cormorants, when hanging by their short, round
claws at the entrances to crevices or hollows in rocks, support them-
selves by their tails as Woodpeckers do. The walk of Cormorants
is a mere waddling, and yet they make more rapid progress than
an observer would at first sight suppose. They are not made for
locomotion on land; but in swimming and diving they are experts.
When a boat approaches their resting-place, they stretch out their
necks, take a few irregular steps, and turn as if for a general flight;
but only a few take to flying, bravely flapping their wings for a
short time. These maneuvers are followed by a regular sail in the
air; while others fly round in circles, rising higher and higher like
the Hawk or Kite. The majority, however, do not take to the wing
at all, but let themselves down into the water, head foremost, like
frogs, diving and rising at a great distance off. Then, looking for
a moment at the boat with their green eyes, they dive and rise
again, and so keep doing till they reach a place of safety.
There is probably no bird that can surpass the Cormorant in
diving and swimming under water. Frequent trials have been made
to get ahead of them with a light boat or canoe; but the practiced
oarsman, though exerting himself to the utmost, could make only
half the distance on the surface that the Cormorants made in the
same time under water. They dive to great depths, and re-
main a long time under water; then coming up to the surface, they
hastily draw in a fresh supply of air and dive again. When pur-
suing their prey in the water, they stretch themselves out and
swim with sturdy strokes, pushing themselves through the water
with an arrow-like velocity.
It may be reasonably inferred from the penetrating green eyes
of Cormorants that their sense of vision is well developed. Their
hearing is also acute, and they do not lack the sense of feeling.
But they are too voracious to possess much discrimination in the
sense of taste. It is true they feed on one kind of fish more than
on any other; but this preference is probably not so much due to
their taste, as to the fact that such fish are more easily caught than
others. The fish alluded to is the so-called alewife, a kind of her-
ring, found in great numbers, swimming near the surface. Cor-
morants are shy and distrustful. Toward other birds, with whom
they come in contact, their behavior is that of tricksters and ras-
cals.
The Chinese train Cormorants for fishing. The young intended
for this use are hatched by domesticated hens. The following is
the mode of fishing with Cormorants: The fisherman employs a
raft from fifteen to twenty feet in length, and from two and a half
to three feet in width, made of bamboo, and furnished with an oar
and rudder. Arriving on the fishing ground, he drives the Cor-
morants from the raft into the water, and they all dive at once. As
soon as a Cormorant has caught a fish, rising with it to the sur-
face, he swims toward the raft, merely with the intention of swal-
lowing the fish. He is prevented by a brass ring or string around
his neck from accomplishing this feat. The fisherman hurries to-
ward the bird, throws a net over him, drags him to the raft, and
secures the fish. He then sends the Cormorant back into the water
for more booty.
In the interior of a country, Cormorants in a very short time
destroy all the fish in the lakes and rivers. Their voracity exceeds
comprehension. A single Cormorant devours daily from sixteen
to twenty good-sized herring. They catch, it is said, young
aquatic birds, Ducks, Coots, Rails, etc. The writer has found in
a Cormorant's stomach the remains of a young Gallinula.
Cormorants prefer trees for nest-building, but also make use of
hollows in rocks. Their nests are formed of a few dry rushes,
fibrous roots, etc. Crows and Herons are often expelled from their
nests by Cormorants, who appropriate the nests to their own use.
Toward the close of April, the female Cormorant lays three or four
bluish green eggs, of an oblong shape, and small in proportion to
the size of the bird. The male and female sit alternately on the
eggs, and usually hatch them out in about twenty-eight days. They
also take turns in feeding the young. These grow rapidly, and
are well taken care of by their parents, who, however, do not try
to defend them, at least not against man. On arriving at the nest
from a fishing excursion, the parent birds empty their crops and
stomachs, which sometimes contain several dozen small fishes.
Many of these fall over the border of the nest to the ground; but
the Cormorants never take the trouble to pick them up. Toward
the middle of June the young are able to fly, and the old birds be-
gin raising a second brood. The flesh of Cormorants is not gener-
ally considered fit for food; but Laplanders and other northern
people pronounce it delicious.
The Double-crested Cormorant. (Phalacrocorax dilophus.)
Fig. 2.
This bird is represented on the plate in its summer plumage,
having two elongated tufts of feathers behind each eye. It inhab-
its all parts of this country from Maryland to Labrador, but in no
way differs from other Cormorants. The specimen that served for
the drawing, was shot in the " Licking Reservoir," heretofore re-
ferred to, among a flock of the common Cormorants (Phalacro-
corax Carbo).
PLATE XIV.
The Great Northern Diver Loon. (Colymbus glacialis.)
Fig. I.
The great Northern Diver, Loon, or Stutter, as this bird is called
in northern Europe, is a regular sea-bird, living on the coast, but
frequenting large fresh-water lakes and ponds in the interior for the
purpose of breeding. These birds, on their migration southward,
late in the fall, and on their return northward, in April or May,
visit our rivers and mill-ponds. They are very shy, wary, and
difficult to kill, eluding the sportsman by their astonishing dexterity
in diving and swimming under water, even against the current.
IL ney can remain a good whale Deneath the surtace, otten six or
eight minutes at a time, and swim long distances with incredible
rapidity, and without any apparent exertion. They sometimes lie
flat on the surface of the water, or sink themselves in it, so that
only a small portion of their backs and their heads and necks can
be seen. They sometimes swim in a slow, quiet way. Their
divingis accomplished without making any noise, or any commotion
in the water, by stretching themselves up, bending the neck in a
curve forward, and then plunging down. Under water they stretch
out to their full length, press wings and feathers close to the body,
and, moving their feet only, shoot onward like an arrow through
the water. Sometimes they swim in one direction, and then in an-
other; sometimes just beneath the surface, and then at a depth ol
several fathoms. They swim or race with fish, their usual food,
and catch them while swimming. From the very first day of their
lives, they swim and dive, and seem to feel safer in water than
when flying high in the air.
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