If you sit somewhere along the Namibian west coast, particularly in the vicinity of Swakopmund, and look out over the Atlantic Ocean at sunrise or sunset you are bound to see long chains of dark coloured birds flying in single file just above the water, heading to or from their overnight roosts. These are Cape cormorants, near endemic to the southern African coast and very common along this stretch of coastline, although they are considered to be “near threatened” because their numbers have declined rapidly in recent years.
The Cape cormorant is a medium sized cormorant, with a length of about 63 cm; the males are a little larger than the females. They are almost entirely glossy blue-black, with an orange throat patch. The bill is dark grey; the eyes turquoise and the legs and feet are black.
The Cape cormorant, also known as the Cape shag, very often forages in large flocks, feeding on schooling fish, such as pilchards and anchovies. They generally forage 10 to 20 km out to sea, although they can often be seen closer than this, sometimes just beyond the breaking waves.
Cape cormorants are usually silent when away from the roost, but utter a nasal grunt when disturbed while at rest.
Cape cormorants are monogamous, but are colonial breeders and the males defend their nesting sites vigorously. One of the popular breeding sites is a guano platform that has been erected near Swakopmund. Their nests are untidy piles of sticks, bones, seaweed, feathers and other material, including human debris. The female lays a clutch of between one and four eggs that hatch after an incubation period of about 25 days.
The scientific binomial for the Cape cormorant is Phalacrocorax capensis; Phalacrocorax from the Greek for “bald raven” and capensis from the Latin for “from the Cape (of Good Hope)”. Well, from the Cape of Good Hope I can understand, but a Bald Raven?