June 1999 Mystery Birds

Yes, these are both Double-crested Cormorants photographed in the San Francisco Bay Area. Neotropic Cormorant has not been found in California except as a rare stray to the Salton Sea and Colorado River areas. My purpose was to focus on the yellow loral skin which is typical of this species and which is never seen on Neotropic Cormorant. I agree entirely with Michael Patten on this and was also surprised that this feature was not noted in the new National Geographic Guide. For more details see Notes on Immature Double-crested and Neotropic Cormorants by Michael A. Patten (Birding 25:343-345, 1993). Patten's excellent paper includes a photo of a controversial cormorant at Kino Springs, Arizona which is a close match for Nancy Conzett's photo below. Mike Wihler's photo appeared at a Western Field Ornithologists meeting at Moro Bay some years ago and stumped the identification panel who got sidetracked assessing the shape of the scapular feathers. The lores are a much better mark in my opinion.

If you found these to be easy, there are images of a cormorant at Ocean Shores, Washington photographed in July 1980 by Dennis Paulson at:


That bird is a true ornithological mystery!

Thank you all for contributing your thoughts and helping to bring to light an important, if neglected, field mark. The original images are below.

Mystery cormorant

© Mike Wihler

Mystery cormorant

© Nancy Conzett

What do you think these birds are?  Please click here to view comments or add your own. Thank you very much for contributing your thoughts.

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