While I don’t have a favourite bird species (if pushed I sometimes name the Northern Mockingbird) the Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) is rapidly filling that position. I have been observing them since seeing my first, as a kid, in 1957, and the more I learn about them the more fascinating they become to me. The first major painting I ever did and sold was of this species, and I had the honor of illustrating Linda Wires’ heavily recommended book, The Double-Crested Cormorant: Plight of a Feathered Pariah, published by Yale University Press in 2014. So, I may have drawn, sketched and painted this species more than any other, and am always happy to do so again.
I started this painting last July, after visiting a nearby water impoundment and finding about a dozen or so of these birds were visiting. The impoundment is shallow and nearly land-locked, but has fish, and so I have seen all three native mergansers, grebes, Caspian Terns and even, last year, two pairs of Common Terns, all visiting, but obviously there are not enough fish to allow any of these species to nest. I was surprised that most of the cormorants still had at least some of the twin tufts of feathers on their heads that give them their common name. While sported by both sexes in breeding plumage, they are soon moulted out after breeding.
My scene shows one bird in preening while holding the wings spread, a characteristic pose believed to facilitate drying the feathers since the birds produce less oil from their oil glands than do other aquatic birds, and must “haul out” to dry, periodically. That bird is a yearling, not yet in breeding plumage, and I theorize that all the birds were probably free-roaming bachelors, since breeding birds must stay relatively close to the nests, and the nearest colony is not near.
I included a Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) as there were quite a few present. Some breed there but most were also non-breeding birds, what are called “moult-migrants” who go through their flightless wing-molt stage where they have access to food near water, one of their favourite foods being grass and there were a lot of lawns nearby. I took artist’s liberty with the far shore, entirely made up, and added “erratics”, the name given to boulders and rocks, some quite large, left behind by the glaciers that carried them here during the last ice age.
This cormorant is native to North America, from the Pacific coast east as far as Newfoundland and Labrador and south as far as Mexico. There is some geographic variation, with western birds showing white crests of long, slender plumes. The birds who nest in the Great Lakes basin seem mostly to winter along the Gulf coast, but they might occur anywhere the water is ice-free. They tend to nest in colonies, some large, often in company with other colonial species. They nest both in trees, and on the ground, as well as on cliffs and sometimes human-made infrastructure, such as bridges. This is an oil painting on a birchwood panel, mounted on a basswood frame, 24 by 30 inches.
Barry Kent MacKay
Bird Artist, Illustrator
Studio: (905) 472 9731
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31 Colonel Butler Drive
Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada