Although double-crested cormorants (see “Double-crested Cormorant” 02-13-13) are common where Leonard and I live in Northeastern California (Modoc County), we must travel several hours to observe marine cormorants.
Brandt’s cormorants (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) are found along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to Mexico with the main part of their range in the productive area of oceanic upwelling in Northern California, Oregon and Washington. Although Brandt’s cormorants will redistribute toward the south in search of food during the fall and winter when ocean upwelling diminishes and north after the breeding season, they are generally considered permanent residents.
Living along inshore coastal waters, especially in areas containing kelp beds, Brandt’s cormorants are also found well offshore.
A monotypic (males and females look the same) bird, Brandt’s cormorants are dark with a dark bill and dark, webbed legs. They have a distinctive pale buff patch on the throat at the base of the bill. Juveniles are brownish-black with tan on the underparts. During the breeding season adults display a blue gular (throat) patch that disappears quickly after breeding.
Brandt’s cormorants eat fish and some squid, which they catch by diving from the surface as deep as 40 feet to chase their prey. Like other cormorants, Brandt’s grab fish in their bills and do not spear them.
This cormorant was named after Johann Fredrich von Brandt (1802-18790, a German naturalist. von Brandt was named the director of the Zoological Department at St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences (Russia). He described the Brandt’s cormorant from birds collected by Russian explorers on expeditions to the Pacific in the early 1800’s.
These Brandt’s cormorants, many juvenile, were photographed in Monterey Bay CA.