Little cormorant

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Little cormorant
Microcarbo niger - Laem Pak Bia.jpg
In non-breeding plumage. Note whitish throat patch and brownish plumage.
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Suliformes
Family: Phalacrocoracidae
Genus: Microcarbo
M. niger
Binomial name
Microcarbo niger
(Vieillot, 1817)

Halietor niger
Phalacrocorax niger
Phalacrocorax javanicus

The little cormorant (Microcarbo niger) is a member of the cormorant family of seabirds. Slightly smaller than the Indian cormorant it lacks a peaked head and has a shorter beak. It is widely distributed across the Indian Subcontinent and extends east to Java, where it is sometimes called the Javanese cormorant. It forages singly or sometimes in loose groups in lowland freshwater bodies, including small ponds, large lakes, streams and sometimes coastal estuaries. Like other cormorants, it is often found perched on a waterside rock with its wings spread out after coming out of the water. The entire body is black in the breeding season but the plumage is brownish, and the throat has a small whitish patch in the non-breeding season. These birds breed gregariously in trees, often joining other waterbirds at heronries.


Breeding plumage (Kolkata, India)

The little cormorant is about 50 centimetres (20 in) long and only slightly smaller than the Indian cormorant (Phalacrocorax fuscicollis). The Indian cormorant has a narrower and longer bill which ends in a prominent hook tip, blue iris and a more pointed head profile. The breeding adult bird has a glistening all black plumage with some white spots and filoplumes on the face. There is also a short crest on the back of the head. The eyes, gular skin and face are dark. In the non-breeding bird or juvenile, the plumage is brownish and the bill and gular skin can appear more fleshy. The crest becomes inconspicuous and a small and well-marked white patch on the throat is sometimes visible. Towards the west of the Indus River valley, its range can overlap with vagrant pygmy cormorants (Microcarbo pygmaeus), which can be difficult to differentiate in the field and are sometimes even considered conspecific. The sexes are indistinguishable in the field, but males tend to be larger.[1] Some abnormal silvery-grey plumages have been described.[2][3]

The species was described by Vieillot in 1817 as Hydrocorax niger. The genus Hydrocorax literally means water crow. It was later included with the other cormorants in the genus Phalacrocorax but some studies place the smaller "microcormorants" under the genus Microcarbo.[4]


The little cormorant is found across India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and lowland Nepal. It is also found in parts of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia. It is not found in the Himalayas, but vagrants have been seen in Ladakh.[5] It inhabits wetlands, ranging from small village ponds to large lakes, and sometimes tidal estuaries.[6]

Little cormorant near Panchkula, India.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

Wing-spreading (Kolkata, India)

Little cormorants tend to forage mainly in small loose groups and are often seen foraging alone. They swim underwater to capture their prey, mainly fish. A study in northern India found that the little cormorant fished in water which was less than a metre deep and captured fishes of about 2–8 centimetres (0.79–3.15 in) length. They propel themselves underwater using their webbed feet.[7] Captured fishes are often brought up to the surface to swallow them and during this time other birds including other little cormorants, painted storks, gulls and egrets may attempt to steal them. Indian cormorants tend to fish communally in larger groups.[8] Like all other cormorants, they will emerge from water and will hold out their wings and stay immobile for a while. The behaviour has been suggested to be for wing-drying, but this interpretation is debated. A study in Sri Lanka found that the time spent with spread wings was always after they had spent some time underwater, and that the duration was related to time spent underwater and inversely related to the temperature and dryness of air. These observations support the theory that the studied behaviour aids drying of the wings.[9][10]


The breeding season of the little cormorant is between July to September in Pakistan and northern India and November to February in southern India. In Sri Lanka it is December to May.[6] A study in Bangladesh found them to breed from May to October. Males display at the nest site by fluttering their wings while holding their head back and bill raised. They then lower the bill, and after pairing the male also provides food to the female in courtship feeding.[10][11] Both parents take part in building the nest, which is a platform of sticks placed on trees and sometimes even on coconut palms. They may nest beside Indian pond herons and little egrets in colonies. The nest is built in about two weeks. The whitish eggs turn muddy with age and incubation begins when the first egg is laid. This leads to asynchronous hatching and the chicks in a nest can vary considerably in age. The clutch size can vary from two to six eggs laid at intervals of about two days. The eggs hatch after 15 to 21 days. The downy chicks have a bare red head. The young birds are able to leave the nest after about a month.[11][12]

Little cormorants are vocal near their nest and roosts where they produce low roaring sounds. They also produce grunts and groans, a low pitched ah-ah-ah and kok-kok-kok calls. They roost communally often in the company of other waterbirds.[6][13]

Parasitic bird lice, Pectinopygus makundi, have been described from little cormorant hosts.[14] Endoparasitic helminths, Hymenolepis childi and Dilepis lepidocolpos have been described from Sri Lankan birds[15][16] while others like Neocotylotretus udaipurensis and Syncuaria buckleyi have been described from Indian birds.[17][18]


  1. ^ a b Rasmussen, PC & Anderton, JC (2005). Birds of South Asia. The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Washington DC and Barcelona: Smithsonian Institution and Lynx Edicions. p. 52.
  2. ^ Ripley, S Dillon (1962). "Unusual plumage of the Little Cormorant, [Phalacrocorax niger (Vieillot)]". J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 59 (1): 285–286.
  3. ^ Blanford, WT (1898). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 4. London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 342–343.
  4. ^ Siegel-Causey, D (1988). "Phylogeny of the Phalacrocoracidae" (PDF). Condor. 90 (4): 885–905. doi:10.2307/1368846.
  5. ^ Sangha, H. S. & Naoroji, R. "Occurrence of Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger in Ladakh". Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society. 102 (1): 99.
  6. ^ a b c Ali, S. & Ripley, S.D. (1978). Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Vol. 1 (2 ed.). New Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 41–43.
  7. ^ Zeenath, C; VJ Zacharias (2010). "Foraging behaviour and diving pattern of Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger (Vieillot) (Pelecaniformes: Phalacrocoracidae) at Kallampara backwaters, Kerala, India" (PDF). Journal of Threatened Taxa. 2 (13): 1382–1386. doi:10.11609/jott.o1819.1382-6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-01. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  8. ^ Mahendiran, Mylswamy Mahendiran & Urfi, Abdul J. (2010). "Foraging patterns and kleptoparasitism among three sympatric cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) from the Delhi region, North India". Hydrobiologia. 638: 21–28. doi:10.1007/s10750-009-0002-8.
  9. ^ Winkler, H. (1983). "Das Flugelspreitverhalten der Mohrenscharbe Phalacrocorax niger". J. Orn. (in German). 124 (2): 177–186. doi:10.1007/BF01640163.
  10. ^ a b Naher, H & Sarker, NJ (2005). "Activities of the little cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger (Vieillot) in relation to sunlight in captivity". Ecoprint. 12: 65–69. doi:10.3126/eco.v12i0.3200.
  11. ^ a b Naher, Habibon & Sarker NJ. "Display and Sexual Activities of the Little Cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger (Ciconiiformes: Phalacrocoracidae) in Captivity". Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences. 15 (1): 81–86.
  12. ^ Naher H, Sarker NJ, Rahman MK, Khan SI (2009). "Breeding Biology of the Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger in Bangladesh" (PDF). Journal of Threatened Taxa. 1 (4): 221–225. doi:10.11609/jott.o1790.221-5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-11-01. Retrieved 2012-08-08.
  13. ^ Baker, ECS (1929). The Fauna of British India, Including Ceylon and Burma. Birds. Volume 6 (2 ed.). London: Taylor and Francis. pp. 280–281.
  14. ^ Tandan, Bhup Kishore (1952). "Mallophagan parasites from Indian birds. Part II. Pectinopygus (Philichthyophaga) Makundi, sp. n. (Ischnocera), from the Little Cormorant, Phalacrocorax niger (Vieillot)". Journal of Natural History Series. 5 (51): 299–304. doi:10.1080/00222935208654295.
  15. ^ Burt, DRR (1940). "New species of cestodes from Charadriiformes, Ardeiformes, and Pelecaniformes in Ceylon". Ceylon Journal of Science B. 22 (1): 1–63.
  16. ^ Burt, DRR (1936). "A new species of Cestode, Dilepis lepidocolpos from the Little Cormorant Phalacrocorax niger". Spolia Zeylanica. 19 (2): 193–200.
  17. ^ Sharma, P.N. (1977). "Neocotylotretus udaipurensis n. g., n. sp. (Trematoda: Digenea) from the intestine of little cormorant Phalacrocorax niger from India". Rivista di Parassitologia. 37: 191–197.
  18. ^ Ali, S. M. (1957). "Studies on nematode parasites of fishes and birds found in Hyderabad States". Indian Journal of Helminthology. 8: 1–83.

Other sources[edit]

  • Chozhiyattel, Zeenath (2009) Behaviour and adaptations of little cormorant Phalacrocorax niger and Darter Anhinga melanogaster. Ph.D. thesis. University of Calicut.
  • Sarker, N. J. Naher, H. (2002). Experimental studies on food habits of the little cormorant, Phalacrocorax Niger (Vieillot). Bangladesh Journal of Zoology. 30(2):173–182.
  • Purandare,Kiran (2001). Nesting colonies of the Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax niger) and Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) in Pune city, Maharashtra. Newsletter for Birdwatchers . 41(1):9.
  • Patnaik,AK; Samanta,M; Prasad,R (1981): Chromosome complement and banding patterns in a Pelecaniform bird, Phalacrocorax niger. Journal Hered. 72(6):447–449.
  • Siriwannichkul, O. (1981). Food Habits and Breeding Biology of Little Cormorant (Phalacrocorax Niger). Kasetsart Univ. Bangkok. Thailand, 68pp.

External links[edit]