Home > Birdwatching, Uncategorized > Cormorant 0, Fish 1

Cormorant 0, Fish 1

February 4th, 2007

Cormorants are pretty common birds in this area. You see them all over the rivers and bay areas. You may even have seen them on TV, in some documentary about Japan: they are the birds used by fisherman to collect fish in the rivers at special times of the year. The fishermen tie a rope around the neck of the bird so it can’t swallow the fish, and collect the catch when the bird comes back up.

Ironically, this particular cormorant I saw today could have used that kind of help.

It was just past 11:30 am when I saw other bird watchers snapping images excitedly: a cormorant had caught a fish.


I took a few pictures, like the one above, and then figured that the excitement was over; the bird would swallow the fish, and that would be that. However, a few minutes later, I caught these images:




Apparently this cormorant had bitten off more than he could chew. Most of the fish was in his gullet, but the tail was still sticking out his bill. The poor bird was having trouble swallowing the fish, and to make matters worse, the other cormorants were ganging up on their beleaguered acquaintance and were fighting to get the fish for themselves.

Five minutes after the bird first caught the fish, it was still struggling:



The cormorant was still trying to get the fish down, and now it was ducking its head underwater more often than it stayed up, either in an attempt to maneuver the fish into a better position to swallow, or to keep it away from the other birds, or possibly both.

The bird was getting more and more tired. It would struggle, and then come up and try to swallow again, fighting off its competitors. The image just below was taken eight minutes after the initial catch, and it almost seems like the fish is going to come out:


Just after this shot, the cormorant was coming up less and less frequently. One complication may have been that cormorants’ feathers aren’t waterproof; this guy was probably getting soaked and heavy just as he was also likely struggling for air. By this time, he would stay with his head underwater for a fair amount of time, and every so often would muster strength in his wings and come back up for a moment… but each time he came up, he stayed up for less time and seemed to have less energy than the time before.

The other cormorants stayed by him, sometimes going underwater in what seemed like another attempt to steal the fish. In the image below, it’s almost as if the remaining fellow cormorant was trying to figure out what was with his cousin.


Eventually, however, the poor cormorant stopped moving. A little more than ten minutes after the whole drama started, it was over. I can’t tell you the fate of the fish, but the fate of the cormorant was pretty clear. The other birds just left, and the still body just drifted with the tide waters until it went out of sight.


A sad little drama of life and death in nature. It might or might not be so unusual, but it was certainly not something that you see every day as a birdwatcher.

Categories: Birdwatching, Uncategorized Tags: by
  1. February 8th, 2007 at 00:47 | #1

    Wow. Sad story, but that’s an awesome set! Reminds me of the “exploded anaconda” photo from a couple years back..

  2. Luis
    February 8th, 2007 at 00:51 | #2

    Thanks. It was strange to see. You tend to think of animals like they’re professionals or something, like the bird knows when a fish is too big to go down, or how to spit one out. Seeing something like this is kind of like watching an ice skater gore themselves on their own skates.

    And, “exploding anaconda”? I’ve got to look that one up…

  3. February 13th, 2007 at 15:57 | #3
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