Birds of Chignik Lake: Pelagic Cormorant

A hint of iridescent gloss in its plumage, a Pelagic Cormorants skims above Chignik Lagoon on a blue-sky day in late winter. Pelagics are common in The Lagoon where the fish they feed on are plentiful. Only very occasionally do they stray inland to the river and lake. (Chignik Lagoon, May 9, 2019)

My first close encounter with cormorants came at a pool I was fishing on Japan’s upper Tama River some years ago. I was in the midst of a fruitless morning when a cormorant of some sort showed up and elbowed its way into my pool. In no more than a few minutes it dove six times and caught six fish. Impressive.

Pelagic Cormorants are common all along the rocky, fish-rich Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula. Red-faced and Double-crested Cormorants can be found along this coast as well. As for Pelagics, most of the very few we saw in the study area of this project were in flight as they headed up or down the Chignik System – perhaps from one side of the peninsula to the other.

Although their feet are webbed, cormorants’ middle toes are hooked – an aid in preening. 

Belying their common name, (and their binomial specific name, pelagicus), Pelagics rarely venture far out to sea, preferring rocky nearshore ocean waters.

This first-year Pelagic was encountered feeding below the salmon weir on Chignik River. (October 24, 2018)

Pelagic Cormorant Range Map: with permission from The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Birds of the World

Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus
Order: Suliformes
Phalacrocorax: from ancient Greek name for cormorants – literally “bald raven”
pelagicus: of the open ocean

Status at Chignik Lake 2016-19: Uncommon/Occasional: At times are regular summertime visitors near the mouth of Clarks River on Chignik Lake

David Narver, Birds of the Chignik River Drainage, summers 1960-63Occasional on Chignik Lake after storms

Alaska Peninsula and Becharof National Wildlife Refuge Bird List, 2010:
Uncommon in Spring & Fall; Common in Summer; Rare in Winter

Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve Bird List: Presence Documented

Previous Article: Pied-billed Grebe

Next Article: Tundra Swan

*For a clickable list of bird species and additional information about this project, click here: Birds of Chignik Lake

© Photographs, images and text by Jack Donachy unless otherwise noted.

2 thoughts on “Birds of Chignik Lake: Pelagic Cormorant

  1. In Australia, we have a nickname for cormorants: shags. My father was a fisher & loved the cormorants. He had a saying when referring to someone or something on its own as, “like a shag on a rock”. He loved them. I remember once as a very small child about 5 or 6, when a shag grabbed my father’s bait attached to his fishing line. There was great drama as my father & another fisher helped to remove the bait fish from the cormorant’s neck. They eventually were successful & for their effort, it bit my father’s fingers. It drew blood. Funny how these memories come flooding back after all these decades.

  2. I’ve heard fishermen in America call them shags too… Never suspected the term might be world-wide among English-speakers. “Like shag on a rock” is a good expression. I guess like your dad, I love the iconic site of these birds lined up on rocks, sea walls and sea cliffs drying their wings. At some point, I might have to post more of my Hokkaido photos. I’d wanted that shot – of cormorants drying their wings in just the right light – and finally got it during that trip.

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