Cormorant hangs out near former Home Depot

Posted Sept. 17, 2008, at 4:52 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 7:17 a.m.

Fran Mitchell called me up and said there was a big, dark bird and it was always sitting on the utility lines next to the former site of Home Depot. She saw it every day as she was going to work at Shaw’s Supermarket, in the vicinity of the Bangor Mall.

She said sometimes the bird was on the wires, and sometimes fishing in the pond below. She asked what kind of bird would do that. I said, could it be a kingfisher? She said, “No, I know what a kingfisher looks like. I used to live on the Penobscot River.”

I was a little flummoxed, but told her I was going in that direction the next day, and would check it out.

I went there, and there it was — a cormorant swimming in the water. I smacked my forehead, thinking — of course! Why didn’t think of that? I remembered how at Frankfort, the cormorants always were sitting on the wires over the Marsh Stream. I’ve seen them on the wires in Florida, too.

But almost always, when you see a cormorant on land, it’s standing on a rock, not on wires.

Cormorants are interesting birds. Many people see them sitting on a rock, drying out their wings, and think that cormorants don’t have an oil gland. That is folklore — they do have an oil gland. They preen their feathers after wiping their beak with oil from a gland above their tail. It’s called the uropygial gland.

Their feathers are quite different from those of ducks. Cormorant feathers are loose and let water in to the skin. Fat under the skin keeps cormorants warm, whereas the air spaces within down feathers, and a layer of waterproof outer feathers, keep ducks warm.

Cormorants we see in summer are double-crested cormorants. Rarely, and in winter, we see a different species, a great cormorant on the Penobscot River. There are seven cormorant species in the United States, 39 in the world.

One rarely sees the two crests on the double-crested cormorant. Usually one has to go to its breeding island on the coast to see the two “crests,” which look like two ears.

Up close, you can see their turquoise blue eyes. When they’re standing on a rock, with binoculars you can see their black, “totipalmate” feet — all four toes are webbed together by three webs. On ducks, three toes are webbed by two webs. And “semipalmated” sandpipers have three toes, of which two toes have only one partial web between.

I dropped in on my neighbors Leslie Hudson and John Halloran a few days after seeing this cormorant, and Leslie said, “Have you seen the cormorant at the old Home Depot?” Thanks to Fran Mitchell, I had. Leslie and I had a good time laughing about this cormorant.

Thank you, Fran, for calling me!

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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