Differentiating West Coast Cormorants

Bert Frenz, 1999

In my experience, cormorants are hard to identify because I rarely get close enough to see the bill and facial pouch clearly.  So my identifications are more often done by shapes, sizes and behavior, particular with birds in flight.  My favorite is the Red-faced Cormorant, perhaps because it is the rarest.  Although I've encountered them a half-dozen times in Alaska, I have yet to get a photo of them.



Double-crested Cormorant Brandt's Cormorant Pelagic Cormorant Red-faced Cormorant
Relative size large large smaller, slimmer like Pelagic
Flight crooked neck straighter neck; flock often flies in straight line arrow-like thin head & neck; white flank patch (breeding) like Pelagic but thicker neck
Tail medium short long long
Neck & head thick big head, slender neck very thin thin
Pouch (adult) orange-yellow blue with buffy border red extensive red
Bill thick, dark thick, dark small, dark, thinest of all thin, pale
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