Cormorants of South Africa

Coming from Pennsylvania, I am only really ever prepared to see one species of cormorant on a typical basis; the Double-crested Cormorant. A winter trip to the coast may offer Great Cormorant or a trip to Florida would offer Anhinga, but nonetheless the eastern United States is lacking in cormorant species. South Africa is quite different. There are 6 species in the country and I have been lucky enough to see all of them since I arrived here in mid-January.

Crowned Cormorant- photo by Alex

The Cape Town area within the Western Cape Province, which I spent a few days in towards the beginning of my trip, is a fantastic region to see various species of South African cormorants. It is here that the east coast species and the west coast species mix. The top photo of this post shows the small and beautiful Crowned Cormorant. This species is endemic to the marine areas along the Western Cape of South Africa. Its red eye and strikingly orange facial skin make it a gorgeous and unmistakable species. The Crowned Cormorant is a near threatened species in South Africa.

Bank Cormorant (above) and Cape Cormorant (below) – photo by Alex

The photo above shows two marine species of cormorant; the Cape Cormorant (lower) and the Bank Cormorant. These species are restricted to the coastline and area fairly common. Both are endemic to the harbors, estuaries, and rocky cliffs of South Africa. The Cape Cormorant is near threatened in South Africa.

Bank Cormorant- photo by Alex

Above is another photo of a Bank Cormorant. Unfortunately this species is endangered in South Africa. Its unique look and bluish-green eye make it my favorite of the southern African cormorants.

Reed Cormorant- photo by Alex

The Reed Cormorant, pictured above, is another small cormorant very similar to the Crowned Cormorant, although this species can be found well inland on fresh-water lakes and ponds. I was able to photograph this species at a large rookery of Sacred Ibis, Cattle Egrets, and Reed Cormorants.

White-breasted Cormorant- photo by Alex

The biggest species of cormorant in southern Africa is the “White-breasted Cormorant”. In the United States, this species is known as the Great Cormorant. This was the only cormorant species that wasn’t a life bird for me, but at least while I am here in South Africa, I can call it White-breasted Cormorant and have a new-found appreciation for the species. This large cormorant is a common species along the coast and can even be found well inland at large bodies of water.
The final species of ‘cormorant’ in South Africa, isn’t a true cormorant, but is closely related; the African Darter. This species is very similar to the Anhinga of North and South America. I have been able to see a few as ‘fly-overs’ but haven’t been able to photograph any yet.

Newman’s Birds of Southern Africa, Commemorative Edition; Revised by Vanessa Newman
Sasol Birds of Southern Africa, 3rd Edition; By Ian Sinclair, Phil Hockey, and Warwick Tarboton