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Pelagic Cormorant - BirdForum Opus

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Adult in breeding plumage
Photo © by Mary Claypool
Imperial Beach, California, USA, 27 February 2006
Urile pelagicus

Phalacrocorax pelagicus


Length: 51-76 cm (20.1-29.9 in)

  • Black-body with a metallic gloss
  • Magenta facial skin
  • White patches on flanks in breeding plumage
  • Throat pouch and face red.
  • Crest in breeding plumage
  • Tail long, neck, head and bill thin.
  • Sexes similar.

Immature is all dark brown.

Similar species

Adult, breeding
Photo © by Rbroadwell
San Francisco Bay, California, USA, 10 March 2013

Brandt's Cormorant has a heavier bill, larger head, thicker neck but shorter tail. Brandt's has blue throat pouch most evident in breeding plumage framed in yellowish brown. Immature Brandt's is dark brown with a pale brown blaze across its chest. Double-crested Cormorant has a blocky head with orange throat pouch. Immature Double-crested usually much paler often whitish on belly and an all yellow bill. In Bearing Sea may be confused with much larger Red-faced Cormorant which has a pale bill, more extensive bright red facial skin and dark blue throat pouch.


Photo © by Bob Sheldon
Montana de Oro State Park, Los Osos, California, USA, 1 June 2007

North east Asia, the Bering sea, and Alaska to the Baja peninsula in Mexico.


Flight – Breeding Plumage
Photo © by eastwood
Point Roberts, Washington, 8 March 2010

This is a polytypic species. Two subspecies are recognized[1]


Offshore and inshore waters.



Dives into sea for food.


Primarily fish


It uses the same nest for several years; it is made of seaweed, grass and cemented together with its own guano. These nests can reach 5-6 feet in height. Nest typically situated on the ledge of a cliff on offshore stack or the mainland. Clutch of one to eight (usually four) greenish white to bluish eggs sometimes lightly marked with brown. Young must jump from the cliff ledge on their first flight.


Low groans, croaks, or hisses, depending on situation. Greeting calls differ by sex with females often giving a ticking sound like a grandfather clock.


Most populations sedentary but perform some, mainly short-range, post-breeding dispersal. Northernmost populations migratory to SE Alaska and N British Columbia. Winter visitor to Korea, China, and Baja California. Vagrant to Hawaii.


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, S. M. Billerman, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2019. The eBird/Clements Checklist of Birds of the World: v2019. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Hobson, K. A. (2020). Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.pelcor.01
  3. Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2019. Pelagic_Cormorant in: All About Birds. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/ Accessed on 12 September 2020.

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