Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Phalacrocorax auritus

"That's not one of our ducks, is it?" my mom asked at lunch this afternoon. I twisted around and saw the waterfowl and screamed, "It's a loon!" I jumped to my feet and grabbed the camera. My movement must have caught the bird's attention since I was only able to take two pictures before it took off. I flipped open my bird guide and went to the loon section. Then I found out that it wasn't a loon, but a Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus).

The cormorant family, Phalacrocorax, comes from the Greek words, phalakros, meaning "bald" and korax, which means "crow." Then the separate species name, auritus, means "eared" which refers to its crests. So Phalacrocorax auritus pretty much means "bald eared crow."

The cormorant, I have discovered, is an amazing, specially built diving-bird. Sealing its nostrils, the bird can dive up to 30 feet deep and stay down for up to 70 seconds as it preys on fish and amphibians with its excellent underwater eyesight. Another extremely unique thing about this bird is that unlike ducks and other waterfowl, the cormorant doesn't have oil-glands. Oil-glands are on most waterfowl's feathers to make them waterproof. Without these special glands, the cormorants lack buoyancy which allows them to stay underwater longer than most birds. Since the cormorant isn't naturally waterproof, the bird has to spread out its wings in the sun to allow itself to dry after each swim.