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Regions > Australasia > Little pied cormorant

Little pied cormorant

Location at the Zoo: Australasia











Scientific Name:

Phalacrocorax melanoleucus


: The head is predominantly white with a small crest and with black plumage to the crown, extending down the back of the neck. These cormorants are polymorphic, varying in the amount of white plumage on the under parts or may be entirely black underneath. The tail is long, black and wedge shaped, the bill yellowish with a blunt hook on the upper mandible, feet (webbed) and legs are black. The wings are short and so do not allow for long flights to sea. The size is 50 - 60cm in length. Both sexes look the same.

Young birds look similar, apart from black colouring above the eye. Very young nestlings have bare reddish skin on their head. They are a diving bird, occasionally found in loose groups but more often independent. The species is known as the little pied cormorant in Australia and as the little shag or by the Māori name of kawaupaka in New Zealand. The name “cormorant” comes from the Latin corvus marinus meaning “sea raven".


: From eastern Indonesia to the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia, south to Australia and New Zealand.


: Coastal areas and inland waters. The little pied cormorant is at home in either fresh or salt water. It is often seen in large flocks on open waterways and on the coast, especially where large numbers of fish are present. On inland streams and dams however, it is often solitary. The little pied cormorant is one of the most common of Australia's waterbirds, occurring on water bodies of almost any size.


: They dive for fish, such as carp and redfin. They also eat amphibians, crustaceans and other invertebrates, as well as insect larvae, depending on their habitat. Shrimp are a large part of their diet in the winter. They may reside in public parks, where they feed on goldfish in the ponds. On inland streams and dams their most favoured food is yabbies (freshwater crayfish). Fish are caught by deep underwater dives, eyes open, with both feet kicking outward in unison and wings folded; following the fish and catching it crosswise. The cormorant will bring the fish to the surface after 10 – 20 seconds and flip it in the air to position it correctly and smooth down the fins of the fish – swallowing it whole and headfirst. Bones and other indigestible parts are regurgitated as a paste like substance.

Reproduction and Development

: Little pied cormorants breed either in colonies or, less commonly, in single pairs in well-vegetated wetlands. Breeding occurs once a year in spring or early summer in southern areas of its range (southern Australia and New Zealand), and after the monsoon in tropical regions. They breed when water levels around the wetlands are very high.

Males will call from their chosen nesting site, bow low with raised wings in a display for the female. The nest is a flat platform of sticks, lined with green leaves and is usually placed in a tree, often eucalyptus trees standing in the water, often near nests of other water birds. The nest may also be found on the ground or in bushes. Three to five pale blue oval eggs with a chalky coating are laid (46 x 31mm). Both adults share in egg incubation (25 days) and care of the young. The young feed on fish regurgitated from the parents gullet. They guard the nest carefully and have a strong bill for defense.


: They dive (from in the water) and swim after fish, catching them from behind. Wings are used for steering and braking. To hang on to their slippery prey, they have a sharp hook on the mandible with which they grab their fish. The bill is long and strong. Fish are brought to the surface before eating. They have nasal salt glands which allow them to fish in salt water and then flush out any excess salt that was swallowed.

The feet are large and fully webbed; legs are short and strong making them good swimmers. They are often seen swimming half submerged. Unlike most water birds, which have water resistant feathers, cormorants have feathers that are designed to get thoroughly wet. Their feathers don't trap air like water resistant varieties making it easier for them to dive and stay submerged while they chase fish. Thus their feathers become waterlogged. After spending time in the water cormorants spend considerable time drying out and preening. They can be seen standing on a log or rock, stretching out their wings to dry their feathers. Even while floating in the water they can be seen flapping their wings.

Cormorants can dive as deep as 24 metres and stay underwater for more than a minute. They have oil interwoven in their feathers that make them less buoyant than other birds and they swallow stones, which are lodged in their gut and act like a scuba diver's weight belt. They can fly up to 80 km/h.

Threats to Survival

: As they only breed when water levels are a certain level, prolonged droughts will affect numbers. As well, droughts can affect the concentration of toxins and algae, which may have an impact on their health. Water polluted from industry, road runoff and storm water is also a threat.


: IUCN: Least concern; CITES: Not listed

Zoo Diet

: Smelt, Ibis mix (a diet prepared on site here and is a mix of meat, fish, chick chow and supplements.