How do cormorants take off from the water?

2011 March 21
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) often visit the little lake behind my place in Vicksburg, and they’re lots of fun to watch. It’s often said that cormorants “run” to take off from the water, but that’s not quite accurate.

Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, takes off from the water\'s surface

During takeoff, cormorants do not “run” by putting one foot in front of the other. They actually move both legs together and hop across the water. They hit the water with both feet, launch themselves forward, pump their wings downward and pull — splash, whoosh, push, pull — and eventually get fully airborne. (See it in slow motion.) Pelicans use a similar technique.

male Surf Scoter, Melanitta perspicillata, takes off from the water\'s surface

Some other waterbirds, including diving ducks, grebes, and loons, actually do run at takeoff, putting one foot in front of the other like this male Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata), which I photographed a couple of weeks ago on a pelagic trip out of San Diego.

A couple more backyard cormorant shots just for fun:

immature Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus

Cormorants ride low in the water because their feathers are less water resistant than those of many other water birds. Many people believe that this is because cormorants lack a uropygial (preen) gland and therefore cannot coat their feathers with oil, but in fact, it is primarily the structural characteristics of feathers that allow them to shed water. Cormorant feathers are structurally less resistant to water, which lets them dive more easily after their fishy prey.

Double-crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus, swallowing a fish

Related posts:

  1. Breeding-plumaged Neotropic Cormorants
  2. Mexico’s Coronado Islands: Brown Boobies, cormorants, oystercatchers, and pinnipeds
  3. Counting Canvasbacks and cormorants
  4. In fire and in water
  5. Pelagic birding in the Gulf of Mexico: Mississippi Canyon in September
4 Responses
  1. Lisa Berger permalink
    March 21, 2011

    A new Search and Serendipity entry each time the computer boots. Delightful! Are you on vacation?

  2. Charley Burwick permalink
    March 22, 2011

    “pump their wings downward and pull — splash, whoosh, push, pull” Never to old to learn something new. Until now, I didn’t know a Surf Scoter could be so beautiful.

  3. March 23, 2011

    What excellent observations! I didn’t realize they hopped, but I’ll be looking for it now. I’ve got a male Pileated Woodpecker in my backyard at the moment. He’s finishing off the suet in the porch feeder since we had a coating of snow last night. Might as well take advantage of my generosity before we cut off the winter buffet…

  4. December 7, 2012

    Great comparison of the taking of styles. I had no idea! Thank you!

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