Mystery Bird: Neotropical Cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus

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[Mystery bird] Neotropical Cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus, photographed in Arizona. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Richard Ditch, 2006 [larger view].

Date Time Original: 2006:10:01 07:47:53
Exposure Time: 1/249
F-Number: 8.00
ISO: 200
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
Look carefully at this bird’s right foot, and you’ll see that the web actually includes all four toes. A trivial observation, perhaps, but one that lets us rule out immediately almost all web-footed birds, leaving us with just a single order: Pelecaniformes, the “totipalmate swimmers.”
Any child who has attended to her picture books knows that this is not a pelican or a frigatebird or a booby or a tropicbird; it can only be a cormorant, an impression confirmed by the bird’s generous tail, overall dark plumage, and nasty hooked bill. So which one?
Let’s return to that generously proportioned tail. It works better on birds in flight, but even perched cormorants can show a distinctive tail-to-neck ratio. In this view, though the neck is slightly folded, we can still say that the tail is close to the same length; so we’re looking at a small cormorant, the larger species much bulkier in front than in back. Both Red-faced and Pelagic Cormorants are snake-necked and slender, while our quiz bird is quite “normally” proportioned apart from the tail. The head is not noticeably blocky, and the bill is neither especially heavy nor especially fine.
Everything points to Neotropic Cormorant, with confirmation provided by the plumage and soft parts of the head. There are a few wispy white filoplumes over the ear coverts, and a thin band of white feathers borders the throat pouch and comes to a point behind the emerald eye. The throat pouch itself is small, pointed at its rear edge, and dull orange; the colorful skin does not extend to the area between the eye and the base of the upper mandible. If we could turn this image, we’d see that the feathers of the back are relatively small and round-tipped, unlike the lavish pointed feathers on the mantle of a Double-crested Cormorant.
Once strictly deserving of its current common name, Neotropic Cormorant is well on its way to conquering North America. There is nowhere in the lower 48 or in southern Canada where this species would be a tremendous surprise, and learning its characteristics, especially its long-tailed profile, may well prepare you to discover the first one for your area.
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Neotropical Cormorant, Phalacrocorax brasilianus

  1. RM says:

    The white v means it has to be the neotropic cormorant.

  2. Yeah; neotropic cormorant, a breeding adult, because of that white V, per my big Sibley. I’ve never seen one.

  3. JohnB says:

    The white border on the lower mandible clinches it as a Neotropic Cormorant.

  4. The Ridger says:

    I knew it was a cormorant, and I accept the above comments about the white border – I’d like to add that I love cormorants’ feet. I know some ducks nest in trees, but can they cling to branches like this?

  5. Joseph Kennedy says:

    Several marks make this a neotropic cormorant.
    It is a long-tailed bird compared to a double-crested. The lores (the area in front of the eye and above the bill) are not orange like in a double crested. the bird is in breeding plumage and has a small crest on the side of the head, not on the top part of the head. And it has the white outline around the base of the bill.
    A double crested cormorant would have a face that looked like this
    and a tail like this
    compared to the neotropic