Cormorants Show "Superbird" Abilities When Fishing For Prey
August 1, 2012

Cormorants Show “Superbird” Abilities When Fishing For Prey

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Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

Cormorants have long been known to be world class fishing birds, but a new video shows just what these airborne anglers are capable of.

Researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the National Research Council of Argentina recently fitted an imperial cormorant from Punta Lèon, a protected area in coastal Argentina, with a small camera, and observed it diving 150 feet underwater in 40 seconds. The video captured by the tiny camera then shows the ℠superbird´ scooting along the ocean floor for 80 seconds where it eventually catches a snakelike fish. The bird then returns to the surface with its catch to begin eating.

The cormorant in this never-before-captured footage showed the adept feeding techniques that these birds perform daily off the coast of Argentina. Cormorants typically subsist on a diet of fish, and have been known to eat eels and water snakes. Using their feet to propel them under water, cormorants also have gland secretions that keep their feathers waterproof.

Many cultures around the world have used various cormorant species for traditional river fishing, with the practice dating back to around 960 A.D. in China and Japan.

These fishermen train the cormorants to dive into the water with a snare tied near the base of the bird's throat. This prevents the birds from swallowing larger fish, which are trapped in their throats. However, the birds are able swallow smaller fish.

When a cormorant has a large fish caught in its throat, the fisherman gets the bird back into the boat and extracts the still-live fish. Although cormorant fishing once was a widespread and successful industry, its practice today is primarily viewed as a tourist attraction, performed by men in traditional garb on a tiny raft.

The newly-released WCS video is part of a project that has tracked over 400 cormorants along the Patagonian Coast of Argentina. Data collected by multi-channel archival tags and high resolution GPS-loggers will be used by researchers to locate the birds´ priority feeding locations and better understand the environmental conditions that affect cormorant populations.

Punta Lèon, where the footage was shot, is home to more than 7,000 imperial cormorants and is part of the series of protected zones along the Patagonian coast of Argentina, where the WCS has been working since the 1960s. The WCS has helped in establishing these zones which safeguard other wildlife, including albatrosses, penguins, and elephant seals. Scientists said they are hoping the ongoing study will assist officials in mapping out and expanding protected areas for cormorants and the other wildlife that live in the region.

The Argentine Patagoina research being conducted by the WCS is part of their mission to conserve wildlife and wildlife regions through “science, global conservation, education and the management of the world's largest system of urban wildlife parks, led by the flagship Bronx Zoo,” according to the society´s official website.

The society was founded in 1895 and assisted with the recovery of the American bison population in the early 20th century. Today they are focused on raising awareness on climate change, natural resource exploitation, the link between wildlife health and human health, and sustainable human activities.