Return to the Cormorants
Natural Bridges State Park
Santa Cruz, CA
Spring 2022

Notice, I did not say “Return OF the Cormorants” although they have returned to their nesting site. I am referring to my return to visiting the cormorants this spring.

Discovering the Brandt’s cormorant nesting colony in Santa Cruz a few years ago triggered my ongoing interest in cormorants. Their practice of breeding together reminded me of dramatic scenes on TV nature shows showing thousands of sea birds nesting on desolate rocks far out at sea. But here in Santa Cruz, instead of needing to go on an ocean voyage, I can park nearby and walk a short distance to watch them. Looking at these photos you might not realize that I am taking them from a parking lot or on a beach full of people.

Last year I focused on the nesting Brandt’s cormorants at Point Lobos State Park in Carmel. This year I returned to Natural Bridges State Park. They chose to nest on the iconic big rock near the beach with its familiar sea tunnel.

When breeding, Brandt‘s cormorant develop blue throat patches and a few wispy white feathers. Adults are a sleek black. Younger juveniles in the nest are fuzzy and gray. Older juveniles are smooth and dark brown or bronze in color. Look for those differences in the photographs below.

When the juveniles get to a certain age they are ousted from the nesting area on top and gather below at the base of the rocks. These groups of fledging juveniles are called crèches. Sort of like a teen hangout spot. The parents still return to feed them since they are not ready to be on their own yet.

The young are fed by sticking their heads into their parents mouth where predigested fish is regurgitated. It’s an entertaining and somewhat gross process to watch. Several photos are included below.

If you want to see and read more about cormorants, search for my previous posts.

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