Faux Duck o’ the Week

January 10, 2021 • 8:00 am

John Avise has given us photos of another species of Faux Duck—waterfowl that look like ducks but aren’t. Your job is to guess the species. After you try, go below the fold to see the answer, John’s Fun Faux Duck Fax, and a range map. John’s words are indented; click the photos to enlarge them.

 Here’s this week’s faux duck, a very interesting species.

Adult swimming:

Adult standing:

Adult perched on branch:

Breeding adult sunbathing:

Juvenile swimming:

Juvenile standing:

Juvenile sunbathing:

Juvenile (left) and adult in flight:

Group photo:

Flock fishing:

Flock roosting:

Flying in V-formation:

Head portrait of juvenile:

Another head portrait:

Now that you’ve guessed the species, click “continue reading” to see if you’re right, and then read some Fun Duck Facts and see a range map:

ID: Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus)

Another group of web-footed, surface-diving birds that beginning birders might mistake for ducks are Cormorants (in the taxonomic family Phalacrocoracidae).  In North America, the Double-crested is the most common of several cormorant species, being found not only along both coasts but also on many bodies of freshwater throughout the continent.  Like all cormorants, this species has a patch of bare skin on the throat (called a gular pouch), which in this case is yellowish-orange.  Adults have a mostly black plumage whereas juveniles are much browner. This species has beautiful aquamarine eyes, and breeding adults have striking white plumes on their head, plus very fancy markings on their bill.  Cormorants produce little preen oil, so their feathers are slow to dry after swimming and the birds spend considerable time sunbathing with their wings spread out widely.  In flight and during migration, flocks of these birds typically fly in lovely V-formations.

A range map from the Cornell bird site:

22 thoughts on “Faux Duck o’ the Week

    1. Ditto! I can never see the word cormorant without thinking of the poem:

      The Common Cormorant or shag
      Lays eggs inside a paper bag.
      The reason you will see no doubt
      It is to keep the lightning out.
      But what these unobservant birds
      Have never noticed is that herds
      Of wandering bears may come with buns
      And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.

      Online, it’s attributed to Christopher Isherwood, but on reflection that seems unlikely.

      1. I read this once (once) as a child and have had it word-perfect since that day.
        Funny what you paper your mind with.

      2. OMG, I have this one memorized as well. I always recite it when we see cormorants, something my husband seems not to appreciate at all.

    2. Me too and at the same time realized I didn’t actually know of any particular cormorant common name. I’m terrible at remembering names…people’s and species’. I’m good at remembering faces though. 😉

      1. Better to remember faces than names. I have (have always had) mild prosopagnosia. Except for family members and close friends/associates I cannot remember faces. People recognize me but I don’t recognize them. I didn’t know there was such a condition until I had to explain to my doctor why I had not recognized him. Needless to say, it is a bit crippling, socially.

        1. Damn, I know Dr. Sacks had the same condition and wrote many poignant thoughts about prosopagnosia. I think he had it worse than you, like all diseases, it has a severity curve. On the other side, I’ve recognized people who have no idea who I am and it takes a while to convince them that I knew them…and how/why/where. I remember one dude wanted to kick my ass for recognizing him and not having a good reason for “where I met him”. At a party dude! No not that simple, but I’ve had the problem of hyper=recognition. Is that even a thing?

  1. Great photos, thank you. I think of cormorants as faux penguins. During the summer here in the PNW they flock to vacant islands north of Port Townsend where they look for all the world like colonies of penguins. Tour boats take people out to see them.

    Fun facts.

    The cormorant drying its wings is a familiar figure on totems carved by West Coast native cultures.

    “Cormorant” derives from old french “cormareng” meaning “sea raven.”

  2. Back in the early 80’s my wife and I lived and traveled on our sailboat for 14 months along the entire east coast of North America (Canada to the Caribbean). I would have to say that the cormorant was the most common bird we observed the entire time. My wife loved to refer to them as “BO birds” because they were so commonly seen with their wings stretched out “sunning themselves” as labeled in the photos. She said that they looked like they were airing our their “arm pits” and not just drying out their wetted feathers. It was very entertaining to see them dive for fish, especially in really clear water. They were remarkably fast. Frequently they would dive under our keel to hunt small fish that were gathered in the shade of our boat. I still have some 8mm underwater movies I took of them chasing fish around our boat. Some day I have to get that film digitized.

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