King Cormorants

King Cormorants

Name: King Cormorants, Imperial Shag, Blue-eyed Shag, Blue-eyed Cormorant, King Shag (New Zealand variety) (Leucocarbo atriceps)

Length: 75 cm.

Weight: 2.65 kg.

Location: South America, sub-Antarctic islands.

Conservation status: Least Concern.

Diet: Crustaceans, small fish, polychaetes (marine worms), gastropods (snails and slugs), octopi.

Appearance: Glossy black feathering, with a white neck and belly, and a black crest on the top of the head during the breeding season. Blue ring around the eyes. Legs and feet are pinkish-orange. An orange-yellow nasal bob above a serrated bill.

How do King Cormorants feed?

King Cormorants prefer to feed near shore but will travel long distances in their efforts to spot out crustaceans or schools of small fish. They snatch up their prey by making dives of up to 25 metres on average.

Are King Cormorants social?

King Cormorants will feed in flocks. Their breeding colonies are usually quite dense and can be shared with other species of birds.

How fast do King Cormorants fly?

King Cormorants can reach speeds of up to 50 km per hour.

What are King Cormorant birthing rituals like?

King Cormorants create smallish (usually up to a couple hundred breeding pairs) but tightly-packed breeding colonies on cliff tops or the tops of slopes. Quite often these colonies are mixed in with those of Black-browed Albatrosses or Rockhopper Penguins. Their nests are made up of local vegetation, excrement, and mud.

2 to 4 chalk-blue eggs are laid around November. Both parents share in the brooding of the eggs. The eggs will hatch about a month later, fledging (growing feathers) in February. The young are fed via regurgitation.

Two king cormorants with a nest full of chicks

How long do King Cormorants live?

King Cormorants have an average lifespan of 15 to 20 years.

How many King Cormorants are there today?

There are an estimated 60,000 breeding pairs found on the Falkland Islands. The world total is hard to estimate while the matter of the subspecies has yet to be settled (see below).

King cormorants

Do King Cormorants have any natural predators?

King Cormorant eggs and chicks are prey for Sheathbills and Skua.

7 Fascinating King Cormorant Facts

  • The taxonomy of King Cormorants is still up in the air. At its base, some authorities place King Cormorants in the genus Leucocarbo, while others prefer the genus Phalacrocorax.
  • Another naming problem revolves around subspecies – depending on whom you ask some members of what were previously considered subspecies should now be considered species of their own, while others prefer the more traditional naming approach.
  • Cormorants as a whole are excellent divers, able to steer themselves underwater with their wings.
  • Because Cormorants need to be able to use their wings as rudders while underwater their wings are fairly short for a bird of their size. This leads them to having the highest energy cost for flying of all the species of birds in the world.
  • There isn’t any real distinction between the names “Shag” and “Cormorant” and both can generally be used with accuracy.  
  • “Shag” refers to the crest found on the top of the birds’ heads.
  • There is still some discussion about whether Cormorants have fully water-proof feathers. After fishing Cormorants will go ashore and spread their wings, which is thought by some to be a sign that they need to dry out their wings. However, this wing-spreading might instead be meant to aid digestion, to show other birds that there are fish nearby, or it might help to maintain internal temperatures.   

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