A double-crested cormorant. Photo used with permission by Daniel Roby.
A double-crested cormorant. Photo used with permission by Daniel Roby.

Those gangly, gluttonous rats with wings—I want cormorants on my lake as much as I want rats in my house. I can only imagine during creation that God (perhaps distracted by the profound beauty of the new little hummingbirds) oopsed on the cormorant. An angel likely suggested a mulligan, and that is how we have the beautiful Common Loon.

Anyway, I’m not alone in my dislike. In fact, I would challenge you to find anyone who does like cormorants. So why the heck were they included in an amendment to the Migratory Bird Act as a protected species in 1972? Perhaps another oops, only this one by a well-meaning group of conservationists hoping to protect all the birds that migrate between Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Blah!

To think that people confuse loons with cormorants blows my mind. I love loons. They both dive for fish, yes. Their silhouette and diving patterns on the water can seem…well…somewhat similar from a distance. That’s where it ends.

The loon has several beautiful calls: the endearing tremolo, the haunting wail, the distinct yodel, and the simple hoot. The cormorant has nothing of value in their song, only a hiss or a grunt; no beautiful sound to add to our natural setting. The young in the nest are shrill in their high-pitched whine for food.

When I drink my coffee on the deck in the morning and hear the call of the loon, I feel blessed. It is part of why I live in the Northland, graced to share space with these beautiful birds. What a treat to see the loon dive and hear the call.

When I see the cormorants dive for fish 30 feet off the end of the dock, I run, clamping loudly on the wooden dock sections and holler “shoo-shoo.” They ignore me.

Is it fair? Double standard? I don’t care; it is what it is. Double-crested cormorants, aka Phalacrocorax auritus, I don’t like you.

This bird’s meat is not even on the radar for human consumption. No one in North America hunts them, at least not for food. A few have hunted them (legally and illegally) to preserve their fishery. They are synonymous in literature with evil or a dark force. An award-winning novel titled The Cormorant, by Stephen Gregory, presents a satanic persona for the bird, who wreaks havoc to the main character’s cat and son. Cormorants are called “unclean” in the Bible and, in Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan is “like a cormorant” sitting on the Tree of Life. I learned all these cormorant factoids from an interesting article by Dr. Richard J. King. Maybe King likes cormorants; he sure has studied them. In fact, he has a new book coming out in just a few days (in October) if you’d like to read more: The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History, published by University of New Hampshire Press. It’s available here and at Amazon.

Book cover of King’s new book out in October 2013, The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History.
Book cover of King’s new book out in October 2013, The Devil’s Cormorant: A Natural History.

Gluttonous rats with wings. Folklore had me believing that a cormorant eats many more fish per day than other birds. A reality check (to write this article) led me to find out they actually eat less fish per day than a Common Loon. I thought I was completely justified hating these infamous characters for their ravenous appetite. So why do we hate them?

“It is a perceived competition for fish that dates back to the European settlement era of the 1800s,” shared Douglas Schultz, Walker Area Fisheries Supervisor of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “When you live in a tourism-based economy, these things have an impact.”

“We did a lot of work, completing an environmental impact study and performing research for years before we moved forward to strategically reduce the cormorant population,” said Schultz. The DNR folks in the Leech Lake area started culling the cormorant population in 2005, eliminating as many as 3,000 birds per annum in the first years of the program. This year they only killed 400 birds as the population is much more in check. Does that mean we now have a balance that the public likes their cormorants? “Well, tolerates is a better word,” replied Schultz wryly. “I still get calls that people think there are too many.”

Minnesota isn’t the only place that has had an all-out effort to reduce the cormorant population. New York residents were incredibly frustrated with the bulging cormorant population in the eastern basin of Lake Ontario a few years back. Vigilante outdoorsmen thinned the population without the benefit of environmental impact studies and sans partnership with the DEC in New York State. They later turned themselves in.

Several charter boat captains and a few folks with businesses ties to lake-based tourism received fines. “The government groups moved too slowly and the locals supported the work those few guys did, even if they were penalized,” said Fred Kucik, charter boat captain of Shady Lady Charters out of Henderson Harbor/Sackets Harbor, New York when asked about the illegal cormorant shootings a few years ago. “We had a big fundraiser to help pay their fines. The locals supported what they did. Something needed to change and quickly.”

State and federal agencies have sped up procedures to react to areas with escalating cormorant populations. Good thing, too. I can’t condone taking the law into your own hands to solve a problem, but I can understand their motivation to do so when State and Federal agencies move too slowly.

K.J. Houtman is the author of the award-winning Fish On Kids Books series, chapter books for eight- to 12-year-olds with adventures based around fishing, camping, and hunting. Her work is available at Amazon and local bookstores. Find out more at fishonkidsbooks.com.

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7 thoughts on “I Hate Cormorants

  1. I’ll take your challenge: I like cormorants and am happy to share our Montana fisheries with them. Their swimming and hunting abilities are impressive, and they’re a nice change from the same-old mallard sighting. We have few loons here, so there’s really no “preferred alternative” to the cormorant.

    It should be noted that I like snakes and wolves as well, which are also associated with evil. Some of us don’t believe in singling out specific creatures as good or bad, but rather recognizing them all as part of Mother Nature’s rich tapestry. Each has its place. If that weren’t the case, homo sapiens would top the list of destructive, unsavory species not worth preserving. Can you say “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”?

    I can appreciate your position as the rant of a lakeside homeowner, but nothing more. We all hate mosquitoes, but it would be absurd to launch a campaign against them.

    1. Your an idiot we have been waging war on mosquitoes since yellow fever which your yuppy butt evidently knows dolittle squat of….go kiss a rabid fox you moron.

      1. Wow, Old Schhool, you should have the moniker NO School. Is that the best you can do is insult someone…
        You are clearly undereducated or simply oblivious to the realities of the world and science.
        Yes we’ve been waging a war on the diseases mosquitos carry, not the mosquito. Which by the way, if wiped out would probably affect all the other wildlife that depend upon it, up and down the food chain. Do a little reading, if you can…

      2. Well-well…so I use hedehogs vocabulary (mosquitoes) and I’m the idiot. Yes Doc (evidently in education) not medicine. You might want to research yourself on mosquito ditches which Uncle Sam had dug throughout the coastal areas of the southeast to promote stagnant coastal water moving thus decreasing their population-yes they cannot hatch in moving water. oh my! Additionally if you look at googlearth you will see the ditches in patterns since I’m not capable as to present useful information. In closing when the county sprays for mosquito control it’s not to increase their numbers….LOL

      3. You clearly have very little understanding of ecology and eco systems in general. You have tenuous grasp on reality it seems. Scientists are trying to get rid of malaria and other pest borne diseases, not the pest themselves which are food for a number of important species. Everything from the lowly mosquito to the “annoying” cormorant plays an important role in the eco system. When one piece is missing the whole system breaks down. You should change your name to old Uneducated Outdoorsman to make it easier to spot the ridiculous misinformation you’re spreading.

      4. See reply to Doctor Dolittle above…new school. In closing yes no insect should be destroyed – every thing has its place. Hedgepig your not an idiot I was drinking too much moonshine-however WE HAVE BEEN WAGING WAR ON MOSQUITO’s FOR A LOOONG TIME. Oh my God I mispelled again..take care don’t wear your heart on your sleeve…JT Tampa, FL

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