Brandt’s Cormorant
Phalacrocorax penicillatus


Physical Description

  • Breeding adults: large black water birds, with oval bodies and long necks. Medium-sized bill, blunt or hooked at tip. Black overall with purple sheen to feathers on head, whiskery white feathers on head, neck, and back, and a bright blue iridescent gular pouch (throat pouch).
  • Non-breeding adults: all black, with no white feathers, and with gular pouch a paler brown..
  • Juveniles: dark brown feathers overall, with a pale-colored chest and neck and a pale brown gular pouch.


  • Along the Pacific coast in North America, range from Alaska to Gulf of California.
  • Migrating: Canadian population flies south for the winter.
  • Non-migrating: mostly permanent residents, nonmigratory.


  • Found feeding in inshore coastal waters, especially kelp forests.
  • Seldom found more than 10 miles from shore.
  • Breeding colonies located on gentle slopes on windward sides of islands, or steep cliffs with ledges.


  • The male cocks his tail up and bends his neck all the way back over his back during courtship displays.
  • They breed in very dense colonies.
  • Males select nesting sites, and collect, sometimes steal, nesting materials.
  • Both males and females constantly rearrange nesting materials during incubation.
  • Nests are circular, made of moss, sticks, grass, weeds, algae, and driftwood.
  • A clutch is 1-6 eggs, and they are pale blue to bluish white.
  • The hatchlings are naked and helpless.


  • Mainly fish, sometimes amphibians and crustaceans.
  • At least 93 species of fish are recorded as prey items, including northern anchovy, sand dab, seƱorita, cabezon, kelp surfperch, shiner surfperch, monkey face prickleback, rockweed gunnel, plainfin midshipman, Pacific butterfish, medusa fish, Pacific herring, Pacific tomcod, and multiple species of rockfish, cardinalfish, damselfish, sculpins, and seabass.


  • Cormorant eggs and young are prey for gulls, eagles, and crows.

Interesting Facts

  • Cormorants can dive deep underwater for their food, even as deep as 150 feet! Scuba divers sometimes will turn and see a cormorant deep underwater swimming and fishing right next to them!
  • The Brandt’s cormorant is the least vocal of all the North American cormorants at its nest. It can often only be heard within a few feet of the nest. 

Hear a Brandt’s Cormorant’s call

Sources: Tammy Russell, Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Audubon Field Guide;; Oceanwide Explorations

Photo: Don Balch