Location: Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, ID
A couple of afternoons ago, I made an impromptu canoe trip down the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River near Island Park, Idaho. It was a hot blue-sky day, which crowded the river with other canoes, rafts and inner-tubes. The human population floating down the river didn’t seem to bother one large dark water bird, a Double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) that swam and dove randomly among the rafters. A number of his relatives perched in the bare branches of a tall dead tree, drying their feathers in the warm sun.
With their 52-inch wing-span, double-crested cormorants, the most common species of cormorant in North America, are hard to miss when they air out their wings. The one chasing fish in front of my canoe was solid black, but several of the others had white feathers mottling their breasts, indicating that they were first years.
The diver by my boat disappeared briefly, then resurfaced about 20 yards away with a small fish in his mouth. Cormorants snag slow-moving, bottom fish with the help of a small hook at the end of their beaks. They also eat frogs, tadpoles, mollusks and crustaceans. Unlike ducks and geese, their plumage does not shed water, which makes them more agile under the surface, but also forces them to dry out periodically.
And the double crest? It’s only apparent behind the bird’s eyes on breeding pairs and can be hard to see. With breeding season over, this fellow was more concerned with finding food than raising a family.