Natural La Jolla: The Cove is home to thousands of cormorants

NATURAL LA JOLLA:

In the early morning and early evening at the beach you can often see a line of hundreds of black birds (that look a bit like ducks) flying parallel to the coast, sometimes heading south in the morning and back north in the evening. These are cormorants that make La Jolla Cove their home, where they roost on the bluffs above The Cove.

Cormorants are fish-eating seabirds that spend most of their lives near the coast and don't venture far offshore. They eat small fish, eels and even sea snakes. They can swim underwater using their webbed feet, after diving in headfirst. Cormorants are deep divers and can swim quite a way below the surface of the water.

Cormorants nest along our shores as well. Males and females work together to build stick nests right into the cliffsides. They incubate from 1-7 eggs in a clutch. Eggs hatch between three and four weeks later and the chicks will take another few weeks before they are able to fly on their own; they are completely helpless when they hatch. Both parents make foraging trips to sea to collect food and water for their brood; they then feed their chicks by regurgitating the fish supper.

In La Jolla, we have double-crested cormorants and Brandt's cormorants; Brandt's are a bit bigger. They also have bright blue or purple facial skin, while double-crested cormorants have yellowy skin on their faces, and remarkably sparkly blue eyes.

Kelly Stewart is a marine biologist with The Ocean Foundation who writes about the flora and fauna of La Jolla. She may be reached at NaturalLaJolla@gmail.com

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