Birds of America
By John James Audubon, F. R. SS. L. & E.
THE DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT.
[Double-crested Cormorant (see also Florida Cormorant).]
PHALACROCORAX DILOPHUS, Swains.
The objects that more especially attract the notice of the voyager, as he
draws near the south-west coast of Labrador, are the numerous low islands
covered with countless multitudes of birds, that have assembled there for the
purpose of reproduction. Some miles farther, you see a ridge of craggy and
desolate cliffs, emerging from the sea, and presenting the appearance of a huge
granite wall. This forms a partition between the waters of the great St.
Lawrence and many fine harbours hidden here and there behind it, along with
numerous inlets and bays, coves and small creeks, in which the bark of the
adventurer may ride in comparative safety. From the hoary summit of this
bulwark the view is grand beyond description; valleys richly carpeted with moss
and thickets of low shrubs glow in tints of the richest green; clear blue lakes
bear on their bosom numerous birds of varied wing, while around their margins
the females are seated on their eggs or carefully leading about their young;
banks of perennial snow arrest your eye for a moment, and perhaps produce an
involuntary chill; onward towards the horizon, mountains heaped confusedly
behind mountains, mingle their gloomy tints with those of the cold sky. In that
land, man may for weeks, even months, seek for his kind in vain. The deep
silence that reigns around him during a calm, seldom fails to bring sadness to
his heart, as his eye grows dim with gazing on the wilderness. Should the
northern gale issue from its snowy chambers, darkness follows in its train, and
should its whole fury pour upon you, melancholy indeed must be your lot.
To the low islands above alluded to, the beautiful Cormorant represented in
the plate before you, resorts each spring, or the purpose of breeding. It
arrives from the south about the beginning of May, or as soon as the waters of
the Gulf are sufficiently free of ice to enable it to procure food. The winter
it spends on our eastern coasts, but it rarely proceeds farther south than the
Capes of North Carolina, about which it meets its southern friend the Florida
Cormorant, on whose dominions, however, it does not venture.
While with us, the Double-crested Cormorants are seen flying in long lines,
sometimes forming angles, and passing low over the water, at no great distance
from the shore. They enter our large bays, rivers and creeks, going up as far
as the tide, but are seldom or never seen fishing in freshwater. Their stay
along the Middle Districts continues from the beginning of October to the middle
of April; farther east they are seen a month earlier, and disappear a fortnight
later. A good number breed on the Seal Islands off the Bay of Fundy, but the
greater part return to Labrador and Baffin's Bay, where Dr. RICHARDSON found
this species. To that excellent man and intrepid traveller, we are indebted,
among other valuable fruits of his labours, for the first good description of
this bird. From his account and the information which I have received from
Captain JAMES CLARK ROSS, I believe that it does not go much farther north than
the place where it was observed by the first mentioned traveller; and no
Cormorants were seen during the late voyage to the Arctic circle. It is
probable that neither the Double-crested nor the Florida Cormorants occur in any
part of Europe; at least, if they have been described as birds of that quarter
of the globe, I can find no account sufficiently correct to enable me to
A few miles from one of the entrances of the Harbour of Whapatiguan, is a
low and flat island about a mile in length, on which the present species breeds.
As we sailed past it, we could easily observe the birds on their nests, all over
the rock, which was completely white-washed with their excrement, that emitted a
disagreeable odour to a great distance. I had seen several islands near the
Harbour of Great Macatina inhabited by these Cormorants, but being anxious to
complete the examination of one subject at a time, and knowing that we should
see a greater number as we approached the Straits of Belle Isle, I put off the
investigation until I should have leisure to prosecute it satisfactorily.
My son, accompanied by the captain and four sailors, sailed for Cormorant
Island, on which, however, they found great difficulty in landing, for the surf
broke so fearfully as to call into requisition all the judgment and good
management of Mr. EMERY. The moment they landed, almost all the birds of the
island rose on wing, darkening the air, and alighted at some distance on the
water in large bodies. They were so shy that it was not without considerable
difficulty that ten of them were obtained. At the first shot, hundreds of
voting ones scrambled out of their nests, and huddled together in packs of
fifteen or twenty. When the men approached them, they opened their bills,
squeaked, hissed, and puffed in a most outrageous manner; and the noise produced
by the multitudes on the island was not merely disagreeable, but really
shocking. Some of the nests contained eggs, and the young were of all sizes,
from the newly hatched up to those able to fly; none, however, even of the
largest, attempted to gain the water, but all preferred hiding themselves in the
fissures of the rocks, or behind the nests. It was curious to see them crawl
flat on the rock, assisting themselves with their bill, feet and wings,
employing the first in the manner of Parrots, and the wings like the oars of a
boat or the flappers of turtles. When approached, they curved and twisted their
necks in the most curious manner, reminding one of the writhings of a snake, and
when seized they muted so profusely as to excite disgust. A dozen or more of
different sizes, however, were thrust into a bag, and carried on board the
vessel. The materials and dimensions of the nests were noted on the spot, and a
hatful of eggs was brought to me.
The Double-crested Cormorant forms its nest of sea-weeds, some sticks,
moss, and clods of earth, with grass adhering to them, which it piles up into a
solid mass, often as high as three feet from the rock, with a diameter of
fifteen or eighteen inches at the top, and of two and a half feet at the base.
The whole has an appearance of solidity seldom seen in the nests of water-birds.
The nests are placed as near each other as the nature of the ground will permit,
and a great number which appeared to have stood out against the winter storms,
had been enlarged and repaired that season. Many, however, lay scattered over
the rocks, having been demolished by heavy gales or the breaking of the surf
during tempests. The whole surface of the rock resembled a mass of putridity:
feathers, broken and rotten eggs, and dead young, lay scattered over it; and I
leave you to guess how such a place must smell in a calm warm day. The eggs are
three or four, average two and a half inches in length by one inch and four and
a half eighths in breadth, and have an elongated form. They are covered with a
calcareous coating, which is more or less soiled with filth, but when carefully
scraped, shews a fine light greenish-blue tint.
The young when just hatched, are of a bluish-black colour, tinged with
purple, and look extremely odd. They remain blind for several days, and for
about a fortnight are fed by the parents with the greatest care, the food being
regurgitated into their open throats. They appear to grow rapidly, for in the
course of eight or ten days we found some the size of a pullet, which, when
marked, were scarcely half that size. They are covered with long down of a
brownish-black colour, and do not leave the nest, unless they are intruded on,
until they are able to fly, when their parents, who long before had ceased to
feed them by dropping the fish into their bill, and had merely placed it on the
ground near them, leave them to shift for themselves. By the middle of August
all these birds remove southward, along Newfoundland, by Cape Breton Island, and
the shores of Nova Scotia, scarcely any remaining on the coast of the first
during winter, when indeed not many are seen farther east than the Bay of
The fishermen and eggers never gather their eggs, they being unfit for
being eaten by any other animals than Gulls or Jagers; but they commit great
havoc among the young, which they salt for food or bait. The old birds are too
shy to be killed in great numbers, otherwise their feathers, although they smell
strongly of fish, might be turned to account. I have never eaten Cormorant's
flesh, and intend to refrain from tasting it until nothing better can be
The flight of this species is strong and well sustained, although not so
rapid as that of the Florida Cormorant. It sails at times in a beautiful
manner, and at a great height above the waters. Like other species, the
Double-crested Cormorants are fond of sunning themselves, with their wings
spread out. They walk awkwardly, and cannot run without the aid of their whigs.
In order to arise from the water, in which they sink so as nearly to be covered
when swimming, they are obliged to run and beat the surface for many yards,
before they get fairly on wing. Their food consists of shrimps, lents,
capelings, codlings, and other fishes, scarcely any kind coming amiss unless too
strong or of too great a size. Of the codlings especially they devour vast
numbers, they being in astonishing shoals on the coast of Labrador at the time
when the Cormorants are breeding, and indeed remaining until the departure of
the birds, when they retire to deeper water. I never saw a Cormorant plunge
from the air after its prey, but should be much gratified by such a sight,
which, if we trust compilers, is nothing uncommon; nor have I ever seen a bird
of this species perched on anything higher than the top of the low island on
which the nest is placed, none having been observed by me on any of the high
rocks on which the common species breeds in America.
I have given the figure of a beautiful male in its perfect spring plumage.
This is probably the only representation of the bird yet presented to the
public, and the same remark applies to the Florida Cormorant.
PELECANUS (CARBO) DILOPHUS, Double-crested Cormorant, Swains. and Rich.
F. Bor. Amer., vol. ii. p. 473.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, Nutt. Man., vol. ii. p. 483.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT, Phalacrocorax dilophus, Aud. Orn. Biog.,vol. iii. p. 420; vol. v. p. 629.
Male, 33, 51.
Common as far south as the coast of Maryland, in winter. Breeds in
Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as on the Saskatchewan.
Adult Male at the commencement of the breeding season.
Bill about the length of the head, rather slender, somewhat compressed,
straight, with the tip curved. Upper mandible with the dorsal line slightly
concave, until near the tip, when it is curved, the ridge convex, and separated
from the sides by a narrow groove, the sides erect, convex, the edges sharp and
straight as far as the unguis, which is strong, convex above, incurved, acute.
No external nostrils. Lower mandible with the angle long and very narrow
towards the end, filled by an extensive membrane, which extends a short way down
the throat, its dorsal line a little convex, the sides erect and convex, the
edges sharp and inflected, the tip compressed and obliquely truncate.
Head rather small, oblong, narrowed before. Neck long and rather slender.
Body full, depressed. Feet short, stout, placed far behind; tibia feathered in
its whole length; tarsus very short, strong, much compressed, covered all round
with scales, of which the anterior and lateral are large and sub-hexagonal, the
posterior very small and roundish. Toes all placed in the same plane, and
connected by reticulated webs, covered above with very numerous oblique
scutella; first toe smallest, fourth longest. Claws rather small, strong,
Plumage of the head, neck, lower parts and posterior portion of the back
glossy, blended and silky, of the fore part of the back and wings compact, the
feathers with loose glossy margins. From behind the eye to the length of an
inch and a half on each side, an elongated tuft of long slender, loose recurved
feathers. Space around the eye, and to a large extent along the base of the
bill, together with the small gular sac, bare. Wings rather small; primaries
very strong, curved, rather narrow, tapering and obtuse, second longest, third
almost equal, first longer than fourth; secondaries decurved, broad, broadly
rounded, the inner narrower. Tail of moderate length, very narrow, much rounded
or cuneate, of twelve narrow, rounded feathers, having extremely strong shafts.
Upper mandible dusky, along the edges greyish-yellow; lower yellow,
irregularly marked with dusky towards the edges. Iris bright green, margin of
eyelids, bare space on the head, and gular sac, rich orange. Feet and claws
black. All the silky part of the plumage is greenish-black, at a distance
appearing black, but at hand in a strong light green. The imbricated feathers
of the back and wings greyish-brown, their fringe-like margins greenish-black;
primary quills brownish-black; secondary like the other feathers of the wing.
Tail black, the shafts of all the feathers black.
Length to end of tail 33 inches, to end of wings 29, to end of claws 33;
extent of wings 51; wing from flexure 13; tail 6 3/4; bill along the back
2 8/12, along the edge of lower mandible 3 8/12; tarsus 2 7/12; outer toe 3 3/4,
its claw (4 1/2)/12. Weight 5 lbs. 7 oz.
The Female is somewhat smaller, but in other respects is similar to the
The Young, after the first moult, have the head and neck mottled with
greenish-black and greyish-brown; the other parts as in the adult, but the tufts
on the head wanting.
The Double-crested and the Florida Cormorants are very nearly allied, their
forms, and the structure of their plumage, being precisely similar. There is,
however, a very considerable difference in size, as will be seen on comparing
their measurements and average weights as given by me. The bills are similar in
form, but their colours differ, as do those of the eyelids; but in the breeding
season these birds may readily be distinguished by the temporary tufts or crests
behind the eyes, which in P. floridanus consist of a mere line of single
feathers curved downwards, while in P. dilophus they are of considerable
breadth, and composed of about forty recurved feathers. In the absence of the
crests, the difference in size affords the principal means of distinguishing
Female. The mouth of this bird, and those of the other Cormorants, differ
from those of all the birds hitherto examined and described in these volumes, in
having the posterior aperture of the nares placed much farther forward,
commencing nearly opposite the anterior angle of the eye, and in this species
only 10 twelfths long, with a very prominent ridge on each side, running
backwards over the hind part of the palate, which is flattened. The width of
the mouth is 1 inch 4 twelfths; but the lower jaw can be dilated to 2 inches,
there being a joint on each side at the base, as in Herons. The tongue is a
very diminutive ovato-lanceolate, thin, strongly carinate body, 1/2 inch in
length, 3 twelfths in its greatest breadth, with two basal knobs placed close
together. OEsophagus 16 inches long, at its commencement 2 1/2 inches in width,
afterwards 2 inches; contracting to 1 1/2 inches as it enters the thorax, and
again dilated into a sac 2 1/4 inches in width,
Fig. 1 [a b], which is directly
continuous with the stomach, that organ seeming to form its fundus. Its
muscular fibres are very distinct, the external being transverse, the internal
longitudinal; the inner coat is thrown into prominent longitudinal plicae. The
stomach, [b c d], is of a roundish form, 2 inches 2 twelfths in diameter; its
muscular coat extremely thin, being reduced io a single series of slender
muscular fibres; the inner coat quite smooth and soft, as is that of the pyloric
lobe, [d], which is inch in diameter. The proventricular glands, which are very
numerous, form a belt, of which the greatest breadth is 1 inch 9 twelfths, but
at one place only 1 1/4 inches. The lobes of the liver are extremely unequal,
the right being 4 inches, the left only 2; the gall-bladder 1 inch 9 twelfths in
length, oblong, 4 twelfths in breadth. The duodenum, [d e f g], which is 3 1/2
twelfths in breadth, curves upwards at first to the length of 9 twelfths, [d e],
then bends round the stomach, ascends on the left side to the upper part of the
proventriculus for the length of 6 1/2 inches, retraces the same course until it
reaches the liver, then passes down the right side, and is convoluted, forming
twelve turns in all. It measures 5 feet 10 inches in length; its width in the
duodenal part is 4 1/2 twelfths, afterwards 3 twelfths; the coeca, [i i], 6
twelfths long, 3 twelfths broad, 4 inches from the extremity; the rectum,
[i j k], for 3 inches has a width of 4 1/2 twelfths, and terminates in a
globular cloaca, [k], 1 inch 10 twelfths in width.
The trachea is 11 inches long, from 5 1/2 twelfths to 4 1/2 twelfths in
breadth, considerably flattened; its rings moderately firm, broad, 138, with 2
additional half rings. Bronchi of moderate width, one with 20, the other with
22 half rings. Lateral muscles large, as are the sterno-tracheal slips.
This species has a slender trigonal bone 10 1/2 twelfths in length,
articulated to the crest of the occipital bone. The anterior part of the
cerebrum tapers to a point much in the same manner as in the Turkey Buzzard,
forming a similar lobe, 4 twelfths in height at its base, from the extremity of
which comes off the olfactory nerve, which is about the 5th part of a twelfth in
breadth, runs a course of half an inch along the septum of the eyes, and is
distributed to the membrane of the nasal cavity, which is of a triangular form,
6 twelfths in length, 5 twelfths in breadth, with a single large turbinated
bone. The external aperture of the nostrils is completely obliterated, its
place being filled by bony matter. The large branch of the 5th pair of nerves
passes in its usual direction to the anterior part of the upper mandible.