Double-crested Cormorant, Truckee River in downtown Reno. Photo: K.Fitzgerald. 12 Aug 2015.

Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), Truckee River, downtown Reno. August 12, 2015. Photo: K. Fitzgerald.

Double-crested Cormorant
Phalacrocorax auritus
  • Black feathers on head, neck and body.
  • Yellow patch of skin under bill.
  • Two sets of feathers above eyes during breeding season (Mar-May).
  • Diving ducks, swim low in water.
Record Observations
Species Description

Double-crested Cormorants often stand like statues on rocks or tree branches, with wings outstretched, air-drying their black feathers. They swim low in the water with beaks tipped upward, and when diving, propel themselves forward using their feet. Cormorants can dive up to 25 feet deep, and remain underwater for up to 30 seconds (Beedy & Pandolfino 2013).

During spring, summer and fall, Cormorants are fairly common along the Truckee River from Reno downstream to Pyramid Lake. They are also frequent visitors to some of the upstream storage reservoirs such as Stampede, Boca and Prosser.  During winter months (approximately late November to February) many Cormorants head for California’s central valley and the Pacific coast, although some remain in our area year-round (see eBird database).

The Cormorant’s scientific name, Phalacrocorax, comes from the Greek for “bald headed raven”.  “Double-crested” refers to sets of feathers that are present above the bird’s eyes during a portion of the year (often hard to see).  Breeding adults also have aquamarine-colored eyes, and a patch of yellow/orange skin on the face.  Inside, their mouths are bright blue (Beedy & Pandolfino 2013).

Double-crested Cormorants nest in colonies on islands, or in large trees near riverbanks, sometimes in mixed colonies with American White Pelicans, Great Blue Herons or Egrets.  Males select a nest site, then find a willing female.  Once a pair forms, they work together to build a nest using sticks and more unusual ingredients such as parts of dead birds, rope, balloons, or fish nets.  Sometimes they repair and reuse existing nests, or steal nest material from neighbors (Ryser 1985).  According to the Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada (2007), Double-crested Cormorants nest on Anaho Island at Pyramid Lake, at Virginia Lake in Reno, and also possibly along the Truckee River downstream from Reno.  If you see a nesting Cormorant along the Truckee, be sure to submit an observation!

References & Links

Beedy, Edward C. and Pandolfino, Edward R. 2013. Birds of the Sierra Nevada. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Floyd, Ted; Elphic, Chris; Chisholm, Grant; Mack, Kevin; Elston, Robert; Ammon, Elisabeth; and John Boone.  2007. Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Nevada.  Reno: University of Nevada Press.

Hatch, Jeremy J. and D. V. Weseloh. 1999. Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Available:

Ryser, Fred A. 1985. Birds of the Great Basin.  Reno: University of Nevada Press.


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