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 Cormorant - Fact File
Phalacrocorax carbo
Common in suitable habitats. About 11,000 pairs breed but more spend the winter here or pass through on migration.
Found on coasts and estuaries, and also inland lakes and rivers. Coastal birds breed on cliffs, while inland colonies nest in waterside trees.
Large blackish bird with long neck and bill. Swims low in water. Often seen standing on rocks and posts with outstretched wings.
90 cm


Cormorants are among the most familiar of local seabirds. Those spending the winter here may come from breeding colonies on the Yorkshire coast, the Farne Islands, Anglesey, Abberton Reservoir in Essex or the Netherlands.

Between September and April impressive numbers (totally more than 600 at times) fish along the Norfolk coast in Broadland, at Breydon Water and in the Fenland rivers and drains. Immature cormorants linger here all summer.

Severe weather earlier often results in groups of these almost prehistoric-looking fishermen visiting the Yare and the Wensum within short distances of the centre of Norwich. Cormorant numbers have fluctuated greatly through the years.

It is of considerable interest to trace their fortunes through the pages of early works covering Norfolk ornithology. The final volume of Stevenson's Birds of Norfolk, published in 1890, describes the cormorant as 'an occasional and uncertain visitant to our coast, less frequently still in some inland waters and almost invariably occurring in spring and autumn.'

Earlier writers described a substantial breeding colony at Herringfleet where in some years there were 60 nests. Stevenson's work describes a visit of 30 cormorants to the river at Earlham during a cold spell. One was shot and joined the great Gurney collection now housed in Norwich Castle Museum.

Cormorant in typical stretched wings pose.Writing soon after the turn of the century in Nature in Eastern Norfolk, Arthur Patterson considered the cormorant as 'rather rare'. It was then an event to see two or three perched on Breydon channel stakes. Yet old wildfowlers at that time declared it was not unusual in their younger days to see a cormorant on every stake. Nowadays the Breydon scene has been restored to that of the old-time fowlers.

Scroby Sands was chosen by local cormorants as a safe night-time roost for many years. But the sandbank, greatly lowered by storms, was abandoned in 1966. Ranworth alder carrs became the new roost for East Norfolk. Ranworth in turn has since declined as the Breydon birds have favoured roosting at Fritton.

Cormorant - Continental raceThe largest breeding colony of cormorants in East Anglia is situated at Abberton Reservoir, near Colchester. Established in 1981, it is apparently the first successful tree colony in the country since 1916 (when a solitary pair reared young at Black Dyke, Feltwell). Many of the Abberton birds display silvery-white head and neck plumes typical of Continental cormorants (right). Perhaps the Essex colonists originated from a thriving colony in the Netherlands.

.By Michael J Seago

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Copyright Information

  • Article: © Eastern Counties Newspapers Group
  • Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge © Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.
  • Other material: © Birds Of Britain