Anatomy of a Cormorant Landing

//Anatomy of a Cormorant Landing

Anatomy of a Cormorant Landing

Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus. Photographed with my Olympus E-3 and Zuiko 70-300mm. The birds were silhouetted in late afternoon light, high ISO 1000, some post-processing NR to compensate for the darker conditions..

I shot this series along the Lake Washington Ship Canal in Seattle. If you’ve watched Double-crested Cormorants [literally] coming home to roost, you know that the process of securing a branch of one’s own can be arduous.

These cormorant wings are designed for speedy flight, not harrier-style hovers. Their tree landings are further complicated by cormorants who’ve landed first and who prefer at least a wingspan’s worth of territory around their coveted perch.

The process goes like this if you’re a Double-crested Cormorant in Seattle:

  • Catch the wind under the Aurora Bridge and sail into roosting territory
  • Circle around to gain altitude for the approach
  • Approach high with a branch or two in mind, in your favorite tree, preferably already occupied by a few friends
  • Descend and just hope that your cormorant friends don’t boot you from your intended perch
  • Land and flail until you stabilize yourself on the branch — or —
  • Get rejected by an existing cormorant, pull up quick from your descent, recover, circle again to get some height, then try for another branch or another tree
Double-crested Cormorant Landing

The Approach - ©ingridtaylar

Double-Crested Cormorant Landing at Roost

The Descent - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant in Flight

Pulling Up From the Dive - ©ingridtaylar


Double-crested Cormorant in Flight Seattle

The Recovery - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant at Lake Washington Ship Canal

Circling - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant Perched in Tree in Seattle

Perched Neighbor - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant Landing in Tree

The Landing - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant in Roost

Stabilizing - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorant Perched in Tree

Settling In - ©ingridtaylar

Double-crested Cormorants Territorial at Roost

Territoriality - ©ingridtaylar

Shot with my Olympus E-3 • Zuiko 70-300mm • ISO1000 • 1/1000

By | 2011-03-25T22:56:58+00:00 March 25th, 2011|Animal Behavior, Birds, Blog, Cormorants, Seattle +|11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Elizabeth March 27, 2011 at 12:31 pm

    Great pix and love the narration. Thank you for sharing these amazing shots with us!

  2. ingrid March 27, 2011 at 1:16 pm

    Hi, Elizabeth. Hugh’s narration is actually much better (and funnier) than mine. He’s got the parody of animal behavior down to an art. (I still love the way he interpreted Chauncey’s defensive grumbles as “no, no, no!”)

    Hope things are great with you and the most amazing pigeon rescue on the planet!

  3. Hugh March 27, 2011 at 1:18 pm

    Totally captures our late-day communion with these amazing flyers! Super!

  4. ingrid March 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

    Hugh, wasn’t that spectacular? I love the urban context of the wild life.

  5. Al Cambronne March 28, 2011 at 8:19 am

    Some great shots! I especially liked the very first one. Even if it was a little blurred and not quite as nice as some of the others photographically, it captured the “braking” moment very dramatically.

  6. ingrid March 28, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    Thanks, Al. Your comment actually brings up a consistent, artistic quandary for me. That is, when a photo captures a behavior or a moment, but is less than stellar, technically — do I still post it? Usually, I do. Because I tend to think of photography as a window into a moment, as much as a visual expression. The challenge of photographing the cormorants at this location is that they arrive to roost (obviously) later in the day. And, their trees are shielded from the setting sun by a series of office buildings. So, when they gain altitude, fly and circle higher, they rise above the sun-blockers (buildings) and still have some lovely illumination on their feathers. As they land in the darkened trees, even at higher ISOs, it’s tougher to get a clean, clear image of their motion. They’re mostly in shade and silhouette.

  7. Al Cambronne March 28, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    That is indeed a tough thing to balance. By the way, I didn’t mean to say that photo wasn’t a good one. The blur on the wings gives it a feeling of motion, and the tail feathers were perfectly in focus. The body is a little blurred. Long lens, incredibly shallow DOF? And since those birds are so dark, it must be tricky to get more than a silhouette against the sky. Nice shots!

  8. ingrid March 28, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    No worries at all, Al. I didn’t take it that way. 🙂 I’m always aware of where I didn’t or wasn’t able to capture a frame as I would have liked, but don’t have any personal attachment to that end. I do deliberate over whether or not to post blurry shots. Sometimes they work for artistic effect. Sometimes, they portray enough of the action to deliver a message. And yeah, shallow DOF, plus no good light on the diving bird. Why couldn’t those darned cormorants cooperate with me?

  9. […] roosting position along the Lake Washington Ship Canal. (I posted a series of landing shots at my blog.) .cbadss{ background-color:#FFFFFF; font-family:; font-size:12px; […]

  10. M. Firpi January 21, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    I’m amazed at the quality of this Zuico lens. The cormorants are very sharp.

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