September 18, 2008

Cormorant Makes a Meal of Eating Slippery Eel

This hungry cormorant nearly bit off more than it could chew when it decided to make a meal of a very slippery fish.

The bird was spotted struggling with a large eel off Monmouth beach in Lyme Regis, West Dorset.

It lost its dinner a couple of times and had to dive down to retrieve it.

When the eel was finally caught, a group of seagulls arrived to steal it and the bird ducked under the sea again to avoid a brawl.

However, its persistence paid off as it polished off the eel with a final gulp.

WMN photographer Richard Austin, who caught the moment, said he sees a number of cormorants off Lyme Regis during August and September.

"If they catch an eel, they're always difficult to swallow. Sometimes they get wrapped around their necks," he said.

He described the birds as "pretty ferocious eaters" which are feared by trout farmers as they can swallow several fish in a row.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said cormorants are "supreme fishers", which has led them to be regarded by some as "black, sinister and greedy". Peter Exley, RSPB South West public affairs manager, said: "They are large birds and they need to eat as much as they can to survive. But they need a long time to digest too.

"They do as a cat would do - wolf it all down then sit lazily and digest.

"They eat any species of fish - they can fish in both fresh and saltwater. They eat quite large fish and they often try to eat them whole."

More than 9,000 pairs of cormorants breed in the UK each year, particularly around the coastline. In the Westcountry, they can be found from the reservoirs of Dartmoor to estuaries and coastal towns like Lyme Regis.

The bird is often confused with the shag, which is two-thirds its size and only fishes in coastal waters.

Cormorants hunt alone, like this one, but in popular areas such as the Exe estuary and river, dozens can be found at any one time.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.