|Galapagos Cormorant (flightless). Susan Alcorn|
Cormorants are not unique to the Galapagos, but the flightless one is. The Galapagos Cormorant (Phalacrocorix Harrisi) is found on only two islands there--Isabella and Fernandina and its numbers are estimated to be in the 900-1600 range making it one of the world's rarest birds.
The Galapagos Cormorant shares some of the physical and behavioral features of other cormorants. Its four toes are joined to form webbed feet--enabling it to swim well. Its legs are powerful. Because its feathers are not waterproof, it dries them by spreading its wings. Its wings, however, are much smaller than other cormorants--and about a third the size that would be required for it to fly.
The flightless cormorant evolved at a time when there were no enemies on the islands. Like most of the other animals in the Galapagos, it is quite tame compared to others of its genus because it evolved well before there were any humans around that might hunt or otherwise hurt it. However, as people began to inhabit the islands and bring along dogs, cats, and pigs, the birds became increasingly at risk. The Darwin Institute and others periodically assess the situation and conservation measures have periodically been undertaken--such as removing predators from the islands. Another continuing threat to the flightless cormorant is from human activities. They may get caught up in nets used for fishing and they are helpless in case of an oil spill.
When visiting the Galapagos, look for the birds in the waters near the shoreline. We were best able to see them when kayaking or riding in the Kodiacs out from our sailing ship, the Mary Anne. If you're there July to October, look for nests in the rocks above the high-water mark. The nests are usually made of seaweed and sometimes "decorated" with offerings of bottle caps and such brought by the admiring males. The female flightless cormorant can have three clutches each year--let's hope this enables them to flourish in spite of the risks it faces.
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