Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cormorant Rescue

The Double Crested Cormorant winters in the Holden Beach area and lives year round south of us in Florida. Yesterday I saw my first cormorant of the "fall season" - a juvenile marked as such by its white chest. I knew what is was immediately as they are a distinctive looking bird often called the "snake bird". They are black, relatively large, have a long snakelike head and a somewhat hooked beak. They are unique in that they have very little oil on their feathers which allows them to dive for food underwater. This also makes it so they have to dry themselves off after a swim. Cormorants are often seen on pilings with their wings spread out drying themselves.

The cormorant I saw yesterday was sitting on top of the water like a duck. This is not typical cormorant behavior. If you see them in the water, they're usually mostly submerged with only their snakelike head above the water. I knew something was wrong and, as I paddled closer, realized that the bird was caught in a gill net. Gill nets sit in the water, buoyed at the top and weighted at the bottom. This one was about 20 feet long, and the bird obviously swam into it underwater and got tangled.

Luckily my tour group was all about saving the bird - especially a 15 year-old named Christine. We pulled up along side the bird and while Christine held my boat I used my first aid scissors to cut the bird out of the net. Freed from the larger mass of the gill net, the bird was still horribly entangled. I carefully put the bird in the back hatch of Christine's kayak while it violently tried to attack me. The cormorant's head was the only thing not entangled.

Christine and I pulled up on the nearest bank, threw a towel over the bird's head, removed it from the kayak and proceed to cut it free. It took at least 6 or 7 minutes to carefully cut all the net away. Once the net was all removed I told Christine to back up and removed the towel. I was afraid the bird would be angry and might attack, but it was simply tired and walked away looking back over its shoulder at me like it wasn't exactly sure whether to say thank you or not. The bird found its way to the water and swam away. Hopefully it was okay and will stay away from gill nets in the future.

We saw a loggerhead turtle later on in the tour, just past the nets and up into the creek we tour by kayak. Hopefully he didn't suffer a similar fate.

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