Thursday, June 23, 2005

Cormorant Cull?

My second day here in the county I walked all the way down the lane to the beach to check things out. It was about 8:00 a.m., and the first thing I learned is that the turkey vulture is not an early riser. It was clear from the state of things turkey vultures had been roosting on the roof of the little pavilion by the water for quite some time. The ground around it was a litter of giant feathers, awash in guano, and dotted here and there with what looked like regurgitated this and that. There were two vultures on the roof as I arrived, and a third was in one of the dead trees, apparently having lifted off at the sound of my approach. The two left on the roof slowly, reluctantly, perhaps sleepily, took themselves off to another dead tree where they perched for quite a while, until my presence became too much of a bother.

After surveying the effects of their residence, described above, I walked to the water and along the beach for a bit. I came upon a stretch of about 3 or 4 metres littered with the, mostly skeletal, remains of at least five double-crested cormorants. Most of the bones were picked completely clean, although they didn’t look as if they’d been lying there all that long. There were a few wings, or pieces of wings that were relatively untouched, and one complete head. Now with the vultures in residence a few metres away it’s no mystery that there would be stripped bones like these, I guess. But why so many all in one spot on the beach. There was no sign of dead cormorant anywhere else in the vicinity.

I had no camera then, and the weather changed within a day or two of the discovery, causing almost all the evidence to be washed away into the lake. When I did get down with a camera I found one skeleton remaining–so at least there’s that. But one doesn’t a mystery make.

All that remains....

So the question is what preys on the cormorant, if anything? Or was there a little “die-off” in South Bay that no one’s talking about? Or a private cull? And in the latter two cases, who was collecting the bodies and bringing them to this one spot on the beach?

The double-crested cormorant is a controversial critter in these parts–it has made a spectacular invasion of parts of the Great Lakes and beyond, and because of some of its effects for the fish stocks and plant life around its breeding colonies it has been subjected to a number of “control” measures, from the oiling of eggs to prevent their hatching, to the use of sharpshooters to shoot
thousands in a day, always creating a lot of controversy.

The cormorant is a formidable bird–I’d just like to know if ospreys are whacking them too, or bald eagles, otters....?

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