The double-crested and neotropic cormorants are winter residents in Oklahoma. Depending on the time of day I’m walking at Boomer Lake, I can usually spot at least one cormorant (and it is usually the double-crested).
These cormorants seem to make themselves at home on the small island in the lake, where on certain mornings you can see numerous cormorants sitting in the tree.
These cormorants are large birds, with a small head on a long neck. Their beaks are thin, with a noticeable hook at the end.
In terms of coloring–the adults are basically brown-black, with a yellow-orange patch of skin on the face. It is only during breeding season that the adult cormorants will show the ‘double-crest’ of black or white feathers above the eyes.
The younger double-crested cormorants have some pale brown feathers on their neck and breasts, and their beaks are a little darker in the color (compared to the adults).
The double-crested cormorant can be spotted somewhere within the United States no matter the season. Their breeding grounds are within the northern part of the country (with the exception of the areas where they’re found year round), and majority of the US is within their migration path.
They are a colonial species (meaning they’re found in small to large groups), that require decent size bodies of water for hunting (though they are willing to fly up to forty miles away to find a feeding area), plus areas that afford them perches so they can dry their feathers after hunting.
For the areas where they breed–they prefer to nest at the tops of tress, and the larger the colony, the more guano is produced which may end up killing and toppling their nesting trees within a few years, after which they will decide to move areas or just build thier nests on the ground.
For spotting–look to the water for low-riding birds, and while they could be confused for a loon (cormorants sit just slightly higher in the water as they move around), or look to the tops of trees, floating logs, or other places where large birds may perch to dry off in the sun.
In terms of the cormorant’s diet–it is mainly fish, that is supplemented on occasion with insects, crustaceans, amphibians, and the odd water snake.
Cormorants are able to actually chase their prey underwater, and catch them with their hooked beak. If they cat crustaceans, they will work to remove the legs (by hammering the prey on the surface of the water), then flip it up into the air before swallowing it head first.
Since they’re divers and swimmers–you might see them dive in one spot, but they may come up several yards away after catching a snack. So always scan the water after they go under–you never know where they’ll resurface (or how many).
So, the only good way to tell the difference between the double-crested and neotropic cormorants is the fact that the neotropic has dark feathers around the eyes–whereas the double-crested cormorant lacks the feathers near the eyes.
Photography goal: taking a trip and managing to get a picture of a colony of cormorants during the breeding months, in addition to possibly getting a picture of one trying to ‘break’ the legs off of a crustacean before eating it.