Marathon Wild Bird Center

Home Wish List Who We Are Stories Patients Injuries


Summer of 2006 - Raising of a Baby Cormorant.

We received a call of rescue from a couple of boys that ventured onto a mangrove island and sadly frightened nesting cormorants off their nest. They reported that a baby "fell out of the sky". What probably happened is that very thing - one of the parents was protecting the new born from the sun and flew off the nest, and the baby fell out of the nest. The boys brought the baby to the MWBC.

Kelly guessed its age to be one week. The baby didn't have any feathers and its eyes were closed. Kelly and the volunteers of the MWBC nursed baby cormie along for 4 weeks with live fish. On June 13th, I (Susie Ward) was asked to take the baby to raise and then release.

Kelly has a reference book she consulted regarding cormorants. In the 7th week the baby is coaxed into the water and in the 10th week the baby is abandoned by the parents. Cormorants do not teach their babies how to catch fish.

So far the baby has been receiving about 10 fish a day. The baby's temperature is very high - I would guess about 106 degrees. To help keep itself cool it does two things; "pants" and this is interesting - it urinates a white fluid on it's feet. In the photos below you'll notice the white feet and belly from it sleeping on it's feet.

First day at the Wild Bird Center. This is the baby's size the first day at the MWBC. We believe it was about one week old in this picture.

Resting on its belly. At 4 weeks, June 16th the hook on the top of its beak has appeared, plus the knob on the lower beak. Because of this new growth I toss the 3" fish into the cage and Baby Cormie is able to pick up the fish and manuever the fish in the correct position (head first) then swallow.
Baby is starting to stand. Another picture at 4 weeks, the baby is standing up. The feathers on its wings and tail are beginning to grow and are protected in white sheaths. On its body the feathers are still fussy down feather also known as "wool".
Looking for the next fish. This picture was taken on June 19th. Baby is just learning to walk and I have it out of the cage for some exercise. Just like a human baby, it can walk a short distance, then falls or just stops because it's worn out. It does run with its wings out for balance which is very funny to watch. I have just fed the 4th fish of the day but Baby is hoping for the next one. I believe the parents feed their babies one fish at a time so I wait an hour between feedings. It depends on the size of the fish I'm able to catch, if it's 3-4 inchs I wait a couple of hours but if it's smaller, I give it another fish in an hour.
Baby sitting on chair. June 22 - I take Baby out of the cage during the day. It sits on the arm of the plastic chair or on the seat or under the chair. It likes to pick up sticks and shake them. I am still feeding it about 8-10 live fish a day. Baby is much better at walking. Instead of hand feeding Baby, I put the fish in a large plastic tub with salt water. Baby snorkels for the fish and is very quick to find the them. The feathers seem to grow one inch each day - it's amazing. I gently place Baby into the water but so far it doesn't want to stay in the water. I have 5 more weeks until I take Baby out to a bird/mangrove island. At 10 weeks the book says they are independent of any adults.
Feathers are wet but you can see their fast growth. Chair is the ladder out of the water. June 24 - In the first photo is a good look at the secondary flight feathers in their white sheath. The sheath will be picked off by Baby when it preens. "Wool" still covers Baby's back and belly. The next photo shows the way Baby gets out of the water. Now, I disable a fish and toss it into the water - no more tub. Baby then reluctantly dives into the water from the chair that's in the water. Baby prefers to lean over as far as possible to catch the fish - but then falls in the water. Baby will splash it's wings after it eats the fish, a very typical cormorant behavior. Since I have a seawall I must use the chair. In the wild Baby would have rocks, trees, or land to get out of the water. The coconut palm fronds are a "fence" to keep my chicken (hen) from attaching Baby.
Just took a swim to catch a disabled fish. June 27 - I would guess the primary, secondary, and tail feathers have grown 3 inches since June 24th. Today, Baby is very happy about swimming for the first time. It likes to hold it's breath and dive underwater. Baby is moving around more - jumps between the plastic chairs. Baby stays out all day but at night I put it in the cage to protect it from the raccoons which would kill her.
Baby cormie balances on chair. Drying wings after a swim. June 30 - Baby now swims from the shore in a radius of 100 feet. Baby slept on my next door neighbor's dock support for a couple of hours, then found its way back to the chair. The primary, secondary, and tail feathers are almost the same size as an adult's. Baby's balance is getting better and it hops/flies around the yard. At first the chicken would scare Baby but now it's the other way around! Baby is the boss of the yard. Still disabling the fish and tossing them into the water. Baby snorkels but only for fun.
Baby drying feathers after a swim. July 2 - If you click and enlarge this photo you will see Baby's beautiful primary and secondary flight feathers. Each day, it is so amazing, Baby's feathers turn from "wool" to functioning feathers. Immature cormorants have a white or light color belly and in this photo you can to see those feathers growing in.
Behavior is the same - snorkels for fun, sits in the yard and sleeps, and receives meals by me throwing the disabled fish into the water, jumps in after and eats the fish.
Full belly after eating 4 fish. July 21 - Today I decided it was time to be released from my care and go into the world of wild birds. The baby "wool" had been fully replaced by mature feathers. On July 19th, Baby did it's first 500 yard flight, in a large circle with no problem. July 21 is the last half of Baby's 9th week.
In this photo Baby had just finished eating 4 fish and jumped back on the boat.
Baby flies off the boat. Baby splashing. Enlarge these two photos and you'll be able to see Baby flying off towards the "Bird Island". The second photo is Baby splashing in the water.
I was in my boat and when Baby was in the water I zoomed off without Baby realizing what was going on. Hopefully, Baby will get with the other cormorants on the island - there are hundreds of them on this island.
Before After It took approximately 11 weeks to raise Baby.

General Information from the Yale University book: Handbook of North American Birds:

Daily activities begin before daylight in colonies. Birds spend time at roosts or perches, flying to and from foraging areas, feeding, or sitting or sleeping on the water. Frequently perch with wings spread, usually facing wind both in fair weather and foul. Much time spent preening and bathing (rapid wing vibrations and much splashing), with short intervals of sleep. Night's sleep usually begins shortly after sunset and is normally sound. Flight speed 48 mph with no wind. Walks awkwardly, avoiding grass. Older preflight young are fair climbers in trees, aided by beak. In take-off from perch, bird leaps forward, losing altitude before raising. Take-off from water aided by rapid running action of feet. Often flies with beak open in warm weather; rapidly pulsating pouch often noted, in flight and at rest - a type of panting (temperature regulation).


Home Wish List Who We Are Stories Patients Injuries