Word Nerd

A double-crested cormorant.

Cormorant [kor•mɚr•ent]


1. any number of species of large coastal birds of either the genus Phalacrocorax or Nannopterum. Cormorants commonly have long necks, dark plumage, four webbed toes and hooked bills that they use to feed their voracious appetites by diving for fish in the ocean.

Common throughout Europe, Asia and the Americas, the three most typical cormorants found on the Oregon Coast are the Brandt’s, the double-crested and the pelagic cormorant, which nest on offshore islands throughout the lower Columbia River estuary and upon rocky headlands along the coast


Enters English with the -ant suffix in the early 14th century. Borrowed from the Old French, cormarenc, by way of the Late Latin corvus marinus, which means “raven of the sea” or “crow of the sea.”

Corvus is still used today in taxonomy as the genus for crows, ravens, rooks and jackdaws.

“‘Is there any cormorant fishing in Japan?’

‘Yes, I have brought back some excellent photographs showing how cormorant fishing is done,’ said Dr. Smith. ‘I do not know that the custom originated with the Japanese, but it is mentioned in Japanese literature as far back as 700 A. D. The people go out with cormorants, sometimes using as many as 16 birds to one boat.

‘Before the birds are started out, a string is tied tightly about the neck of each to keep it from swallowing the fish. They are also tied by long strings to the boats. Sometimes metal rings are put around the throat to prevent the fish from sliding into the stomach.

‘The birds dive down into the water and bring up the fish, whereupon the boatmen pull them in, force open their bills and squeeze the throats until the fish drop out. Then the birds are started out for a fresh catch.’”

—​Frank G. Carpenter, “Enterprising Fishermen Are the Japanese,” The Sunday Oregonian, Dec. 25, 1904, P. 36

“To lower predation on endangered juvenile salmon migrating downstream, the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) started last year trying to cut the number of birds on East Sand Island from 13,000 to 5,600 over a four-year period.

“The agency estimates East Sand Island holds the largest double-crested cormorant colony in the world, with the number of breeding pairs growing from 100 in 1989 to more than 15,000 in 2013, making up 98 percent of the breeding population in the estuary and eating about 12 million salmon.”

—Edward Stratton, “Activists release video of cormorant culling,” The Daily Astorian, May 10, 2016

“Officials say thousands of cormorants abandoned their nests on East Sand Island in the Columbia River and they don’t know why. Reports indicate as many as 16,000 adult birds in the colony left their eggs behind to be eaten by predators including eagles, seagulls and crows.

The birds’ mysterious departure comes after the latest wave of government-sanctioned cormorant shooting.”

—​Cassandra Profita, “Thousands of cormorants abandon their nests,” The Daily Astorian, Reprinted from Ecotrope, Oregon Public Broadcasting, May 20, 2016

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