One group of birds that often catches our attention is the cormorants, known for their distinct appearance and impressive swimming skills. But they can often be mistaken for other species.
In this article, we’re going to take a closer look at 7 birds similar to cormorants, uncover what makes them interesting, and how they compare to their cormorant counterparts.
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Birds Similar To Cormorants
- Scientific name: Anhinga anhinga
Anhingas are large and glossy black water birds commonly found around lakes, freshwater marshes, ponds, and canals of southern USA, Mexico, Central, and South America.
The name anhinga comes from the Brazilian Tupi language and means “devil bird” or “snake bird” which is one of their many nicknames.
While swimming, only their necks appear above water, making them look like snakes, hence the name snakebird.
You will recognize males by their black plumage with white spots on their wings and backs. Females look similar but have brownish necks and heads. Anhingas also have loud clicking calls that resemble sewing machines or croaking frogs.
Anhingas do not have waterproof wings and can be often seen drying their feathers in the sun leading to people mistaking them for cormorants.
The main differences between cormorants and anhingas are the anhingas’ longer and broader tails and their pointed beaks (cormorants have hooked beak tips).
They are carnivores that feed on fish, insects, shrimp, crayfish, and sometimes even young alligators and snakes. Anhingas hunt by spearing fish and other small prey with their sharp and slender bills.
2. Lesser Frigatebird
- Scientific Name: Fregata ariel
Lesser frigatebirds are the smallest of the frigatebird family, commonly found around tropical and subtropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, even making appearances off the Atlantic coast of Brazil.
These lightly built frigatebirds are characterized by their long, slender wings and a tail that splits into a fork. Males have a vibrant red gular sac that they inflate to attract potential mates, while the females, slightly larger than their male counterparts, exhibit a contrasting appearance with their white breasts and bellies.
While both lesser frigatebirds and cormorants share a love for aquatic environments and a diet consisting primarily of fish, they differ significantly in their physical characteristics and feeding techniques.
Cormorants typically have stockier, more compact bodies with shorter wings and tails, while lesser frigatebirds exhibit a slenderer build with brownish-black plumage and distinctively forked tails. Cormorants also do not have the red gular sacs of frigatebirds.
Cormorants are skilled divers, using their webbed feet to propel themselves underwater to catch fish, while lesser frigatebirds capture prey in mid-air from the ocean’s surface, when they are not engaging in a peculiar practice known as kleptoparasitism. This involves harassing other birds, compelling them to regurgitate their meals, which the frigatebirds promptly seize mid-air.
3. Black Swan
- Scientific Name: Cygnus atratus
These completely black-colored birds are commonly found in Australia, Europe, and North America. Black swans are large waterbirds that can be recognized by their red beaks, completely black plumage, and white wings with extensive bright flight feathers when flying.
Black swans also have long, elegant necks with an S-shaped posture when swimming. In contrast, cormorants are smaller, with a more streamlined and compact body with a straighter neck.
Their diets set them apart too; black swans are herbivores, primarily eating aquatic plants, while cormorants are carnivores, feasting on fish and other aquatic creatures. Both species share a similarity when it comes to pairing and are said to be monogamous; according to a 2004 study, black swans have a divorce rate of only 6%.
4. Canada Goose
- Scientific Name: Branta canadensis
With their 6 ft wingspan, 3.5 ft length, and weight of over 14 pounds, Canada geese are one of the most visible and well-known waterfowl in Europe and North America.
These large birds are commonly found around wetlands, parks, fields, and golf courses; you will identify a Canada goose by its brown color above that is paler below, black neck and head, white cheeks, and black bill and legs.
There are 7 subspecies of Canada goose – one of them, the giant Canada goose (B. c. maxima), is considered the largest goose in the world.
They are also known for flying in a distinctive V-formation and series of loud “honk” calls.
When observing them in flight, you might see some similarities between Canada geese and cormorants. However, there are clear differences to notice: goose flocks maintain a more consistent shape, and unlike cormorants, geese don’t take breaks from flapping their wings.
In terms of diet, geese primarily eat plants, while cormorants mainly feast on fish and other aquatic creatures.
5. Brown Booby
- Scientific Name: Sula leucogaster
These big seabirds are one of the most common and widespread species of the booby family Sulidae. Brown boobies are common across tropical regions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. In the Americas, they breed on islands off the Pacific Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Caribbean.
Booby’s head and upper body have dark brown to black plumage which might make it resemble a cormorant. However, when you look at it from beneath, you will see a contracting white belly.
Males have blue rings around their eyes while females have yellow ones. Boobies are also slightly smaller than cormorants and have slightly shorter wings.
Brown boobies have long and pointed bills, whereas cormorants have hooked ones. Finally, cormorants are known for their ability to dry their feathers in the sun due to a lack of waterproofing oils, while brown boobies have waterproof plumage and do not need to engage in this behavior.
6. African Darter
- Scientific Name: Anhinga rufa
African darters, also known as snakebirds, are large water birds that live in sub-Saharan Africa and Iraq.
These birds are about 31 inches long and have long necks. The males are mostly black with white streaks, while females and young birds are brown.
You can tell them apart from similar birds like cormorants by the thin white stripe on their neck against a reddish background and their pointed beaks.
African darters don’t have any oil in their feathers, so they aren’t waterproof. After they dive, their feathers get wet; that’s why you often see them sitting by the water, spreading their wings in the wind and sun to dry, just like cormorants, which are birds they often share their habitat with.
7. Brown Pelican
- Scientific Name: Pelecanus occidentalis
Brown pelicans can be found along the Atlantic Coast from New Jersey to the mouth of the Amazon River and along the Pacific Coast from British Columbia to northern Chile, including the Galapagos Islands.
They have chestnut-and-white necks, white-colored heads with pale yellow crowns, brown-streaked backs, rumps, and tails, and black legs and feet. Brown pelicans also have oversized gray beaks, from 11 to 13.7 inches long. Under the beaks, there are large pouches of skin.
Brown pelicans and cormorants are both water birds that inhabit coastal areas and are often seen near the ocean. However, the distinctive long bills with a pouch as opposed to the hooked bills of cormorants, and the difference in size and plumage color make it easy to differentiate the two species.
Read More: List of birds in Florida with massive beaks
This concludes our list of birds that resemble cormorants. Examples include anhingas, black swans, Canada geese, frigatebirds, and others.
Next time, should you see these birds in person, you should be able to recognize any of them with ease!