It’s time to protect all migratory birds, including cormorants!

For more than 14 years, environmental and animal protection groups including Animal Alliance of Canada, Animal Protection Party of Canada, Born Free USA,  Zoocheck and Earthroots have been working to gain protection for cormorants in Ontario and across Canada.

Double-crested Cormorants are native Ontario birds that have repopulated parts of their former range and fulfill a valuable ecological role. Not only do they benefit biodiversity but their presence signals healthy fish populations. They are an integral component of Ontario’s natural heritage and a key component of island ecology.

For too long, cormorants have been falsely accused of environmental damage, water pollution and even the decimation of fish populations which has led to official kill policies that have brought cormorants to the brink of survival. Although the population has rebounded, Premier Doug Ford is putting cormorants and other native birds at risk, such as Egrets and Great Herons, by allowing a province-wide hunting season of cormorants from March 15-December 31. 

This regressive proposal will cause unimaginable cruelty to cormorants who are at risk of being eradicated from Ontario. Cormorants occupy only about 3% of island sites in the Great Lakes but because they are conspicuous, nesting on exposed islands and peninsulas, they are particularly vulnerable, being easily targeted and killed in their nesting sites. Small congregations could be wiped out in just a few hours, while larger colonies could be destroyed in just a few days or a week. Decades of conservation effort to recover the species will have been for nothing.

We know that Premier Ford is using cormorants as a political weapon

Sportsmen campaigned for Doug Ford in 2018. Ford (now with Mainstreet Research showing him in a virtual tie with the Ontario Liberal Party he crushed during the last election – is convinced his political survival in the 2 June 2022 election depends on the sportsmen’s votes. He’s buying those votes with cormorants’ suffering and lives, and the visceral thrill sportsmen get when they kill animals.

However, throughout the Ontario government, good public officials, MPPs, scientists—and even some sportsmen—are appalled and horrified by what Premier Ford is doing.

They know Ford is dead wrong ethically, environmentally, and scientifically.

We need you!

Currently cormorants are provincially managed and not protected under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act even though the same birds are protected federally under the US Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Our goal is to convince the federal government to list cormorants and other migratory birds, such as owls, pelicans and ospreys, under Canada’s Migratory Bird Convention Act, paralleling the US listing.

This requires cooperation between the provinces and the federal government and therefore involves both provincial and federal parties.

Please take a moment today to send a brief email or make a quick phone call to:

The Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson
Minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada

Telephone: 819-938-3813

Fax: 613-992-7319

Please also call or write the Prime Minister:

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

Telephone: 613-995-0253

Fax: 613-947-0310

Let Minister Wilkinson know that you want Double-crested Cormorants to be included in the Migratory Birds Convention Act

If you live in Ontario, please reach out to your local Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP) to express your support for the protection of Double-crested Cormorants.

Let your MPP know (regardless of what party they represent) that you strongly disapprove of the changes to hunting regulations being proposed by Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government. 

Find your Ontario MPP using your postal code at

Thank you for helping us fight for the protection of cormorants, together we can make a difference and save these birds from certain death.

“Double-crested cormorants can be extraordinarily beautiful. They are smart,

clever, really kind of funny birds,” said Stanley Senner, vice president for bird conservation for the National Audubon Society. “Here in the United States, they have gone through several real bottlenecks. One was the use of DDT for several decades that really greatly reduced cormorant populations.”

The pesticide made cormorants’ eggs have thinner shells, making it more challenging for them to reproduce.

“There have been periods of great persecution where they were getting shot all over the place. Yet, somehow this bird has managed not only to survive, but to thrive,” Senner said. “I admire their spunky nature and their ability to come back from these low points in their populations. As a Native American bird, they deserve an enormous amount of respect.”

But the birds, which have historically come close to being wiped out, are now considered a nuisance.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Service is seeking comments after the agency “received 161 requests for assistance with managing double-crested cormorant damage in Ohio.  Those requests for assistance came from both private and public entities, including other governmental agencies,” Gail Keirn, a spokeswoman for USDA, said in an emailed response to questions.

In this June 16, 2016 photo, immature double-crested cormorants sit atop trees on island "B" of the Four Brothers Islands on the New York side in Lake Champlain. Biologists have been working to reduce the populations of the birds in the nesting grounds on the islands in the lake. But a federal judge's decision suspended efforts to control the bird on Lake Champlain and in 24 Eastern states.

A 74-page environmental assessment was issued outlining the scope of the problems which range from posing a threat to aircrafts to the birds’ acidic feces killing off vegetation where they nest. The cormorants compete with other birds for resources. The cormorants are also often labeled as culprits when it comes to raiding aquaculture producers of fish.

The agency is considering authorizing the killing of the birds or destruction of nests to lower the population in Ohio. Another common technique is oiling the eggs in cormorant nests to prevent the eggs from hatching. The embryos are effectively suffocated and the nesting cormorants won’t lay new eggs, believing the eggs are still viable.

In Ohio, the cormorants are known to reside near the western basin of Lake Erie. Ohio’s breeding population of cormorants peaked at 5,296 breeding pairs in 2011 but has fluctuated between 2,400 to 4,300 pairs in the last several years, according to the assessment. 

The Ohio Division of Wildlife estimated the birds were responsible for taking 273,386 fish valued at nearly $200,000, according to the assessment. The birds can eat about a pound of fish per day. On average, they live to be six years old.

A double-crested cormorant takes flight along the first stretch of the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail in Bonita Springs on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. Cormorants are often seen spreading their wings out to dry after diving for food because their feathers are not waterproof.

“It is with sadness that I am reading this draft environmental assessment, which proports to condone the use of violent measures to kill these birds. I cannot envision any scenario where these birds are becoming a nuisance other than fisherman claiming they are taking their fish. There are enough fish in the sea for everyone!” Virginia Frati, in submitted comments.

The birds, by their very nature, will hunt for fish.

“If you’ve got tons of catfish being reared in ponds that have no covers on them or no netting over them; don’t be surprised when cormorant show up for dinner,” Senner said. “If you set the table, the birds will come.”

There are plenty of nonlethal methods to prevent cormorants from feeding on fish at hatcheries, he said.

“I think it’s unconscionable to build a hatchery and not built into it, a proper netting or other deterrence for birds. I’ve seen hatcheries that are set up to prevent bird depredations,” Senner said. “If the solution is just to go out and shoot cormorants, that’ll be a never-ending job.”

Another federal agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a separate rule about controlling double-crested cormorant populations on Dec. 22. 

Under the rule, a new special permit for interested states add to existing measures to address conflicts with cormorants “to protect human health and safety, personal property and threatened and endangered species,” according to a released statement from the agency.

“The Trump Administration is providing tools under this coordinated approach for managing conflicts and economic damage associated with double-created cormorants while minimizing the regulatory burden on federal, tribal and state agencies and individual citizens,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith said in the release. “This special permit will help minimize human-wildlife conflicts while maintaining sustainable cormorant populations as required by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.”

Senner said if there are multiple efforts from agencies to lower the population, without sufficient monitoring, there could be another great decline.

“If the birds are heavily persecuted, it could result in population declines at the state or even regional level,” Senner said.

Even though there have been no reports of aircraft strikes involving double-crested cormorants in Ohio from 1990 to 2018, that is still listed as a potential risk of plane crash and reason for why the birds should be destroyed.

“That doesn’t sound like the double-breasted cormorant is having a ‘significant impact on the human environment’ and since that is our only metric under the current administration the cost to taxpayers to help out businesses in controlling this problem is not necessary and should not be undertaken,” said Constance Jones, who submitted a comment to USDA.

To read more about U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services plans for double-crested cormorants, visit

After the Jan. 15 comment deadline passes, USDA will respond to the comments and those will be included in a final environmental assessment before the federal agency issues a final decision, Keirn said.

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Can Young Pelicans Stop the Slaughter?

by Barry Kent MacKay in BlogCanadaCoexisting with Wildlife on August 03, 2020

Photo: Born Free USA.

The American white pelican is so called to distinguish it from the distinctively different Eurasian white pelican, but it nests in Canada’s three prairie provinces and the westernmost part of Ontario.

You may recall from prior blogs that we have been trying to prevent the shooting of thousands of nesting double-crested cormorants on Middle Island by Parks Canada, a federal agency. Middle Island is the southernmost land belonging to Canada, a little over 100 yards from the U.S. border in the middle of the southwest end of Lake Erie. It is 46 acres, uninhabited, and part of Point Pelee National Park, the main part of which is on the mainland, over 20 miles away. The island is closed to visitors all spring and summer, ostensibly to protect the colonially nesting birds there – double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, and great egrets, plus herring and ring-billed gulls and Canada geese.

Each spring since 2008, except for this year, when boating was halted to reduce infection by COVID-19, thousands of these birds have been shot by Parks Canada staff (and more recently, shooters from First Nations) based on claims that the killing must take place in order to protect “at risk” vegetation on the ground. Even though the plant species of are common in the U.S., which starts about 100 yards to the south of the island, Ontario lists the plants as “threatened” under the provincial Endangered Species Act.

The cormorants change the vegetation dynamics mainly by accumulation of their excrement. Vegetation that can withstand the high nitrogen load from the guano survives while other vegetation does not. As our colleague James Kamstra points out in his evaluation of the Middle Island vegetation, island climates are mercurial due to harsher conditions and plant species thrive and then disappear with the changing conditions.

I have gone with my Canadian colleagues each spring to monitor the cull, and I have been saddened to see the huge degradation of the colony, with ever fewer of various species, not just cormorants. There is a ghost forest emptied of birds where once there was so much life, vibrancy, and activity.

In these last few years, we have also seen Parks Canada activity prevent American white pelicans from using the island. That the pelicans were there at all was a surprise as they were previously designated as a “rare vagrant” in the region, with their nearest nesting site in the northwest corner of the province, roughly 700 miles away. Yet, there they were, in the nesting season.

Because Parks Canada has not allowed them on Middle Island (ironically called a bird sanctuary), the pelicans have tried other islands nearby, first on a low-lying island where high waters washed the nests away, but lately with success on Big Chicken Island, really just a small, treeless sandbar, and Middle Sister Island, about nine acres, privately owned by Americans, uninhabited, and, most importantly, treed. The latter nesting proved that the pelicans, which typically nest in the company of cormorants on treeless islands, can nest on habitat similar to Middle Island, but for Parks Canada’s gunmen.

Because of the pandemic and a ban on boating during the time of the cull, Parks Canada’s annual cormorant slaughter did not happen. This spring, the cormorants, pelicans, and all wildlife on the island, were, for the first time in a dozen years, left in peace. The island is still out of bounds to Canadian taxpayers, until September, but we decided to investigate the status of the colony offshore from Middle Island and, on July 23, Liz White, Vicki Van Linden, and I travelled more than 20 miles across the water to see if we could find young pelicans on Middle Island.

Yes! We were pleasantly surprised and elated. We saw lots of them, both adults and fully grown youngsters, in company with cormorants on the shore and on a nearby exposed sandbar. It was not proof that they nested on the island itself, but indicative. We also travelled to two other islands in the area, Hen and East Sister. As we neared Hen Island, we observed white pelicans on the dock. Hen Island is owned by Americans, who use it as the base for the Quinnebog Fishing Club, complete with a hotel like central building, lawn, retro-decorated club house, and docks and has been unused due to the pandemic. On East Sister Island, we saw flocks reaching 50 birds in number. Again, because of the pandemic, the island had been undisturbed.

Why do we care? Because the pelican, no less than the plants, is a threatened species under provincial legislation, making it illegal to disturb their nesting sites. They and cormorants habitually nest together. Parks Canada can’t cull cormorants without disturbing the nesting pelicans. Aside from the gun shots, which cause massive number of birds to flee the island, their very presence would negatively impact the pelicans. Parks Canada cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue to necessity of protecting “at risk” vegetation while not protecting “at risk” pelicans.

American White Pelicans.
Drawing by Barry Kent MacKay.

Less than a week later, the Ontario government did something no other government on the continent has done, and turned the virtually inedible cormorant into a “game bird” whose meat can be wasted. An open season starts this September 15, with a bag limit of 15 birds per day. Originally Ontario wanted the killing season to go most of the year, so we’ve won a major concession, as I will discuss in a future blog.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Barry Kent MacKay
Director of Canadian and Special Programs

PEER on Double-Crested Cormorants

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility

July 15, 2020

Comments: Migratory Bird Permits: Management of Conflicts Associated with
Double-Crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) Throughout the United
States Proposed Rule by FWS on 06/05/2020 ID: FWS-HQ-MB-2019-0103-1411

These comments are submitted on behalf of Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER):

1. Public Resource Depredation Reversal Unexplained

In Chapter 3.0 of the 2017 Environmental Assessment for issuing
Double-crested Cormorant (DCCO) depredation permits, the U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service (FWS) eliminated reduction of adverse impacts on
free-swimming fish populations from the list of resources qualifying for
permits. In section 3.2, FWS stated that to determine if there may be
significant impacts essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives the
agency would need additional information requiring analyses beyond the scope
of the EA. FWS acknowledged that scientific evidence to demonstrate DCCO
presence as a limiting factor for declines in free-swimming fish on a
landscape level was limited, and that available data indicate impacts are
likely site-specific. FWS also noted limited ability to clarify whether DCCO
depredation on free-swimming fish is compensatory or additive and that in
some systems, the issue is further complicated by introduction of invasive

In 2020, however, FWS revived the idea of a Public Resource depredation
permit for 48 states and an unknown number of tribes yet cites no new
information to justify the reversal of its 2017 position.

2. Not Science Based

The current FWS proposal is not based on new scientific research. Indeed,
the new proposal appears as legally vulnerable as the predecessor
Depredation Orders (DOs) which were invalidated by court order in 2016 in a
lawsuit brought by PEER.

In the succeeding years, FWS has failed to take the required “hard look” at
impacts or to explore alternatives. Instead, FWS appears to have fashioned
what it believes to be a political solution that is unsupported by any
scientific research. In short, this proposal appears to be the antithesis of
competent wildlife management.

3. Nature of Conflict Undocumented

The purported purpose of the new FWS plan is to reduce predation of fish by
DCCOs. Yet, FWS has not even specified which fish populations are at risk
from unabated DCCO predation.

In the prior litigation, PEER and co-plaintiffs offered significant evidence
that DCCOs actually benefitted native fish populations by feeding on
invasive species that were competing with those native stocks. FWS offers no
evidence that these impacts have changed.

Further, FWS overlooks evidence in its own Draft Environmental Impact
Statement (DEIS) that

* The majority of studies find that important commercial and
sport-fish species made up a very small proportion of the cormorant diet.
* Invasive fish make up much of DCCO diets, up to 85% of the biomass
during periods of the breeding season, (p.31)
* There remains “much controversy regarding whether cormorants, in and
of themselves, have the ability to affect an entire fish population.” (p.33)

In addressing the criticism that FWS has failed to show that
avian-suppression measures have had an appreciable impact on the fish
populations that such measures were supposed to protect, FWS response is
that “assessing the influence of predation on a fishery is a complex
endeavor that requires vast amounts of data.” (DEIS, p.33). Yet, FWS has not
marshalled any of this data.

Instead, it offers vague generalities. In its Federal Register notice FWS

“Importantly, reducing the abundance of double-crested cormorants is not the
goal of the Service or this proposed management action. Reducing their
overall abundance does not guarantee that conflicts in specific areas will
decrease. If cormorants are attracted to an area due to food resources,
nesting habitats, or other factors, those places will remain attractive
regardless of the size of the cormorant population and may still experience
damage to the resources. Rather, the goal of the Service is to reduce the
number of conflicts with cormorants by combining lethal and nonlethal
methods and allowing the lethal take of cormorants only when supported by
information that such take would reduce conflicts.”

This distinction is meaningless, however, since FWS lacks data to indicate
whether conflicts will be reduced.

4. No Coherent Explanation for Eschewing Individual Permit System

In his May 25, 2016 ruling, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates concluded that
revoking or vacating these DOs was the appropriate remedy by finding that
individual permits for removal, as are used for most other birds protected
by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), would be sufficient to alleviate
any “any serious detrimental impact” caused by cormorants.

Nothing in the latest FWS filing invalidates that finding or explains why
the issuance of individual depredation permits is an unworkable approach for
controlling excessive DCCO damage.

In its Federal Register notice, FWS stated that “between 2007 and 2018, the
number of permit requests to take depredating birds (exclusive of requests
to act under the depredation orders) increased from slightly less than 200
to almost 300.” This hardly seems like a burdensome number, considering it
covers all bird species. FWS does not specify the number of depredation

permits it has issued in the past few years for DCCOs except to claim that
they are administratively burdensome.

In that notice, the FWS declares that “the use of only depredation permits
to address conflicts will become increasingly time- consuming and
cumbersome, and will be less responsive to needs of those seeking relief
from conflicts with cormorants.” The basis for that statement is not

In its place, FWS proposes far more elaborate permits for 48 states, the
District of Columbia, and an unknown number of tribes. Unless FWS does not
intend to perform the monitoring described in its DEIS, the level of
administrative burden on FWS will actually increase under its proposed rule.

In the DEIS, FWS concedes it “can still authorize the take of as much as
76,000 cormorants nationwide under depredation permits for other purposes
(e.g., human health and safety, property, aquaculture, vegetation,
co-nesting species damage).” (P.62). However, FWS does not explain why the
take of that many DCCOs is insufficient.

5. One-Size-Fits-All Proposal Inappropriate

Contrary to the earlier DOs which were limited to Eastern states, the new
FWS proposal is national (the lower-48) in scope. Yet, FWS makes no showing
that there is a DCCO problem in all 48 states or that shoot-on-sight permits
are an appropriate remedy in any one state.

In the earlier litigation, the lack of appropriate controls in DCCO hunting
programs within South Carolina and Texas was a factor in the ruling striking
down the DOs. FWS offers no evidence indicating that the failures of these
state programs have been cured.

6. Sole Focus on DCCOs Unexplained

DCCOs are not the only aquatic wildfowl that eat fish, yet it is the only
species FWS targets for mass lethal removal. FWS offers no evidence
justifying this singular focus. If all DCCOs were suddenly to be lethally
removed, it is unclear whether other birds would fill that void with the
same impact on fish populations.

The closest thing to a rationale can be found in the DEIS where it explains
why the No Action alternative was rejected:

“Because mortality of cormorants would occur only from natural causes, the
continental and regional populations would likely increase to the carrying
capacity of the landscapes they inhabit before density-dependent mortality
and/or recruitment limit further growth. At that point, the populations
would stabilize around a mean value, although annual and periodic
fluctuations in abundance around that mean would occur due to extant
environmental conditions. Given the growth of cormorant populations in the
absence of lethal management efforts, the abundance of cormorants likely
would be higher than it is currently. Additional population growth would
result in increased conflicts between cormorants and society exacerbating
issues that presently exist. Therefore, we do not believe this alternative
to be a reasonable action.” (p.20)

This is hardly a compelling rationale. Nor does it explain why this
reasoning would not apply to every cormorant species or every fish-eating
bird species.

7. Bias against Non-Lethal Measures

The FWS Potential Take Limit model used to justify killing more than 123,000
wild cormorants presupposes the failure of non-lethal measures in favor of
lethal removal. However, the empirical basis for this presupposition is
never presented, let alone explained.

The DEIS cites studies that “have shown that harassment at hatchery release
sites is often sufficient to reduce cormorant foraging until fish are able
to disperse. Likewise, non-lethal measures are sometimes effective at
deterring migrating cormorants from foraging on local fish stocks as they
are moving through an area.” (p. 62)

FWS claims that it permits would require that non-lethal means are exhausted
prior to undertaking lethal removal. If these studies are correct, no lethal
take should be required to protect fish populations and state-wide permits
would be unnecessary.

8. Take Level May Be Excessive

The DEIS states that the current estimate of cormorant abundance in the
continental U.S. and Canada is 871,001 to 981,394 birds. (p.24). FWS’
proposal would set an allowable take of 123,157 cormorants per year,
nationally. (p.10)

That take level would allow removal of between 1 in 7 and 1 in 8 cormorants
in North America every year for the five-year duration of the permits.

Notwithstanding FWS’ convoluted Potential Take Level calculations, this take
allowance appears excessive and could destabilize DCCO populations.

9. FWS Lacks Ability to Monitor

These high take levels underscore the importance of FWS monitoring of DCCO
populations, what the DEIS labels “an important component of all the
alternatives.” (p.10)

Yet, FWS admits that it “has not yet developed population-monitoring
programs for the alternatives presented in this DEIS.” (p. 57) The Service
also concedes that “To minimize significant negative impacts to the Southern
and Western populations, the Service would need to develop a more
comprehensive take-tracking program that would entail participation of
monitoring from WS [USDA Wildlife Service], states, tribes, and commercial
aquaculture facilities to ensure authorized take levels are not exceeded.”
(p. 58)

FWS further recognizes the particular vulnerability of “the Western and
Southern populations, which may be more vulnerable to negative impacts if
authorized take is exceeded.” (p. 72) These are regions that were outside
the scope of the previous DOs.

Yet, it is not at all clear that FWS has the ability or the organizational
will to invest in achieving substantially upgraded monitoring capability,
especially since the driving motive behind this plan is easing the agency’s
administrative burden. In sort, FWS should not proceed with this proposal
until it has developed the monitoring capacity to prevent excessive DCCO

10. Harm to Co-Nesting Birds Inappropriately Minimized

The DEIS acknowledges “an increasing concern” about harm to co-nesting birds
who will also be driven from their nests during DCCO take operations and
creating “opportunities for gulls to prey on eggs and chicks” of co-nesting
species (p.45). Yet, on the next page of the DEIS, FWS goes on to minimize
this concern with the statement –

“However, the Service anticipates the unintentional take of nontarget
species to occur infrequently and involve very few individuals of a
particular species.” (p.46)

FWS offers no evidence or analysis for this apparently unfounded optimism.

11. No Meaningful Check on Take of Look-Alike Birds

FWS also discounts the danger to look-alike bird species, such as neo-tropic
cormorants, great cormorants, and anhingas. The DEIS points out why this
should be a concern:

“Those species often intermix with cormorants. The misidentification of a
bird species that appears similar to a cormorant can occur especially when
those species mix with cormorants in flight and lowlight conditions.” (p.46)

The only safeguard FWS identifies is that states and tribes with permits
would be required to report any other species of bird taken incidentally due
to double-crested cormorant management activities under this permit, along
with the numbers of birds of each species taken.

It is unclear how often misidentifications will ne noticed, especially if
carcasses are promptly destroyed. Moreover, states and tribes have no
incentive to report mistakes, especially if doing s could result in
suspension or loss of their permit.

Nonetheless, without evidence or analysis, FWS dismisses this concern in the
DEIS, writing:

“The Service anticipates the unintentional take of nontarget species to
occur infrequently and involve very few individuals of a particular species;
therefore, the Service does not anticipate cumulative adverse effects to
occur from unintentional take of nontarget species under any of the

12. The Illogic of Depredation Trigger

The permits FWS proposes would authorize killing DCCOs only when cormorants
are committing or are about to commit depredations. Yet, DCCOs diet consists
almost entirely of fish. Thus, these birds are always either predating on
fish or are about to. In essence, FWS through this proposal and past DOs
wants to extend shoot-on-sight authority to whichever entity it deputizes to
dispatch cormorants.

This indiscriminate approach is poor wildlife management which reflects no
credit on FWS.

13. Inability to Assess Environmental Impacts

Without any knowledge of what permits will be issued for taking what numbers
of cormorants in what locations under what circumstances, it is impossible
to evaluate the environmental impacts of this proposal.

Protecting seabirds: Volunteers help secure the future of common murres, cormorants, gulls and other seabirds

Volunteers help secure the future of common murres, cormorants, gulls and other seabirds

California’s accessible North Coast seabird habitat is vulnerable to potential human disturbances that include kayaking, fishing boats, low flying airplanes, drones, human movement on low tide or climbing rocks. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)

By HEATHER SHELTON | | Times-StandardPUBLISHED: July 12, 2020 at 4:10 a.m. | UPDATED: July 13, 2020 at 7:42 a.m.

For the past four years, “community scientists” have been volunteering their time in the Trinidad area to help make a difference in the life of seabirds.

These local volunteers assist the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network in this endeavor, collecting information to identify current or potential disturbances to nesting seabirds, including common murres, cormorants and gulls.

“The volunteer seabird monitors … play an important role in gathering data about the health of local seabird populations and, in the process, become powerful advocates for this often-overlooked resource along the California coast,” said Carol Vander Meer, director of community engagement for the Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, which provides training and support to the volunteers.

Trinidad seabirds, like most seabirds, typically spend much of their life on the ocean and only come to the coastal rocks to breed. Trinidad’s “sea stacks” are part of the California Coastal National Monument, which encompasses more than 20,000 rocks, islands, exposed reefs and pinnacles along the California coastline, as well as 7,924 acres of public land in six onshore units: Trinidad Head, Waluplh-Lighthouse Ranch, Lost Coast Headlands, Point Arena-Stornetta, Cotoni-Coast Dairies and Piedras Blancas.  TOP ARTICLES1/5READ MORE49ers add veteran tight end Jordan Reed amid Kittlecontract talks

Pictured is a past community science field training in Trinidad. (Bureau of Land Management photo)

“The sea stacks off the Trinidad area are the third most important seabird breeding area along the California coast with over 100,000 nesting common murres (Uria aalge). These offshore rocks provide safe haven for at least 10 seabird species to nest, roost, molt and rest during the breeding season,” said Leisyka Parrott, interpretive specialist at the Bureau of Land Management’s Arcata office, which oversees the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network in collaboration with state, federal and private partners, including the California Coastal National Monument, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California State Parks, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Trinidad Coastal Land Trust, the city of Trinidad, Trinidad Museum, Trinidad Rancheria, Yurok Tribe, Humboldt State University and Redwood Region Audubon Society.

“I feel like the timing is ripe for the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network, and I am happy to be a part of it,” Parrott said.

The North Coast Chapter was established in 2016 using U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service funding secured from the natural resources damage assessment process from two oil spills in Humboldt Bay in 1997 and 1999, which affected coastal beaches and wildlife along the Humboldt County coast. (Other Seabird Protection Network chapters include Gualala Point-Bodega Head, Bodega Head-Point Sur, Point Sur-Point Mugu and Channel Islands.)

“This money isn’t endless, so we want to establish this program and carry it into the future largely with the help of a volunteer community,” said Lynn Roberts, a recently retired biologist with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Arcata field office.

Volunteer community scientists collect data in the field on data sheets, and then enter that information into a centralized data portal when they get home.

“This allows the information to be easily complied and any changes or trends (to) be easily identified and shared,” Vander Meer said.

This year’s breeding season — which runs April to August — marks the North Coast Chapter’s fourth year of monitoring human disturbances in areas around seabird nesting habitat.

“Trinidad is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike during the summer nesting season,” Parrott said. “Kayakers, fishing boats, beachgoers, drones and even helicopters can disturb nesting birds, causing them to flush and expose eggs/chicks to predators and detrimental environmental conditions if left too long. Too many disturbances could potentially cause adults to abandon eggs during critical times.”

Vander Meer said: “Our ultimate goal is to allow seabirds to thrive by reducing human disturbance through environmental education, which hopefully promotes responsible recreation.”

Bruce Hales is one of the area’s community scientists participating in the seabird monitoring project.

“I’ve always enjoyed observing all wildlife, in particular birds,” Hales said. “I would have liked to have a career studying them, but for various reasons, that never happened. When I discovered there was a local citizen scientist observation of seabirds program, I figured here was an opportunity where I could take the skills I’ve acquired from a lifetime of amateur observation and apply them to a meaningful scientific endeavor.

“The most interesting part of this program,” he added, “is going out to specific spots on a regular basis and recording what you see. You get to witness the incremental changes that happen over time. Seeing the same birds week after week building nests, sitting on eggs and hatching chicks, and watching them feed, grow and finally fledge, seems to give me a personal stake in this natural process — and I do what I can to make sure it continues.”

Training for volunteer seabird monitoring takes place every March. This year’s training, however, was canceled due to the COVID-19 health crisis, so several previous volunteers stepped up to help out in 2020, receiving a refresher training session via Zoom. (To learn more about 2021 seabird monitoring training opportunities, check in at

In 2019, 34 community scientists volunteered 579 hours toward seabird population monitoring, educational outreach and recording disturbance events, according to information from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

For more information about the North Coast Chapter of the Seabird Protection Network, go to For more information about the California Coastal National Monument, visit

Trinidad’s “sea stacks” are part of the California Coastal National Monument. Pictured is a sunset in Trinidad. (Bob Wick/Bureau of Land Management)

Global: Ontario announces annual double-crested cormorant fall hunting season

ByGreg Davis Global NewsPosted July 31, 2020 12:08 pm

The province of Ontario is introducing a fall harevest of the double-crested coromorant.
The province of Ontario is introducing a fall harevest of the double-crested coromorant. File

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The province of Ontario is introducing an annual fall harvest of the double-crested cormorant as a step to protect fish stocks and natural habitat.

In Fenelon Falls on Friday morning, John Yakabuski, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, announced that the hunting season will run annually from Sept. 15 to Dec. 31, beginning this year.

Yakabuski says Ontario has a healthy and sustainable cormorant population. The fish-eating bird — which consumes up to a pound a fish a day —  is known for its droppings called guana which can kill trees and other vegetation in which they nest and roost. They are notorious for destroying traditional nesting habitats of other colonial waterbirds.

READ MORE: Ontario government proposes full return of annual spring black bear hunt

“We’ve heard concerns from property owners, hunters and anglers, and commercial fishers about the kind of damage cormorants have caused in their communities, so we’re taking steps to help them deal with any local issues,” Yakabuski said. “In large amounts, cormorant droppings can kill trees and other vegetation and destroy traditional nesting habitats for some other colonial waterbirds, so it’s critical that we take action to strike a healthy balance in local ecosystems.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Following public consultations, the province has made changes to its initial proposal so as not to interfere with waterway users and other migratory birds.

“We listened to those who provided comments about the cormorant hunting proposal, and as a result, we are introducing only a fall hunting season to avoid interfering with recreational users of waterways and nesting periods for some migratory birds,” Yakabuski said. “We have also reduced the maximum number of cormorants a hunter can take to 15 a day, which is a similar limit to one for federally regulated migratory game birds such as mourning doves, snow and Ross’s geese, rails, coot and gallinules.”

Laurie Scott, MPP for Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock, says cormorants have been a growing problem on Sturgeon Lake and Balsam Lake in her riding. “They have covered islands with their guano, killing trees and vegetation,” Scott said.

“We’re listening to local residents who have voiced their concerns and asked for additional tools to address the issue.”TWEET THIS

Last year, the ministry and partner agencies surveyed cormorant colonies across the Great Lakes and select inland lakes in Ontario. Based on nest count surveys, the province says there are an estimated minimum of 143,000 breeding cormorants in 344 colonies across the province.

The province says combined with historical data, trends suggest that cormorant populations are increasing in Lake Ontario, Lake Erie, and Lake Superior and are stable on the St. Lawrence River and Lake Huron.STORY CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“Growing up in North Bay and spending many summers fishing on Lake Nipissing, I have seen firsthand the issues that cormorants have caused in some local areas,” said Mike Harris, parliamentary assistant to Yakabuski.

READ MORE: ‘What they’re doing is potentially illegal’: Kingston MPP wants investigation into Bill 197

“A new fall hunting season will help communities manage cormorant populations where they have negatively impacted natural habitat and other waterbird species.”

The Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters applauds the bird harvesting announcement.

“We are pleased to see a provincial government finally take action to control overabundant cormorant populations to help protect Ontario’s ecosystems,” said executive director Angelo Lombardo. “We are encouraged to see that the MNRF has made adjustments to the original proposal in response to concerns expressed by the OFAH and others.”

The Ontario Commercial Fisheries’ Association echos the sentiment.

“We strongly support the government’s decision to introduce a fall hunting season, which will help to control damaging cormorant populations,” said Jane Graham, executive director. “Our position has not been to seek the extinction of cormorants from Ontario but for the management of cormorants to promote a balanced ecosystem, which is in the best interests for all Ontarians.”

The province says hunters will be responsible for appropriately identifying their target and ensuring they are harvesting only double-crested cormorants. Cormorants can be consumed but if not, the province says the harvested birds must be disposed of properly.

These Hunters Must Stop Pretending…

My dear friend, Ron, has a stalwart reputation as a well-known international conservationist with several technical and popular, even children’s, books to his credit – as well as various other publications – and a track record of being instrumental in bringing increased levels of protection to various wildlife species. He’s intelligent and analytical. But, he was naïve when he said to me, “What about joining with OFAH to oppose this?”

OFAH is the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters, and “this” was the absurdly Draconian plan by Ontario’s newly elected Premier, Doug Ford, to set the clock back more than a century by amending the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act to allow “game” animals to be shot and go to waste (anathematic to all traditional hunting values); to be killed while there are dependent young; to set “limits” of 50 per day and to put no restriction on “possession,” thereby pushing the population of double-crested cormorants, a native wildlife species, to the endangered level, with risk of extirpating it as a provincial breeding species.

Ron’s important conservation work is mostly on the world stage. He trusted OFAH’s claim that it is a conservation organization, and the general assertion by ethical sport hunters that they don’t waste the game they shoot, that hunting is not designed to be cruel and involves “fair chase,” which is why it is called a “sport.”

OFAH has thrown that all away, and promotes the horrific plan by Doug Ford, who shares with his apparent role model, U.S. President Donald Trump, a disdain for science, facts, consultation, and empathy, the last with reference to thousands of baby birds who will die horrifically, literally cooked alive in the absence of the parental care they need to shade them from blazing sunlight (not to mention night-time warmth, food, and protection). It takes both parents to attend cormorant nestlings, sharing duties. With hunters able to quickly shoot any and all adult birds in a nesting colony, widespread suffering is inevitable. That’s just one of many negative consequences to this horrendous shift away from fact-based wildlife management.

OFAH claims to be committed to healthy lakes and rivers. It’s odd, if they are so uninformed as to not realize that cormorants are indicators of such health, including robust populations of their prey. While OFAH says increasing numbers of people hunt, the fact is the opposite; it is mainly the sport of a small percentage of mostly older guys. Attrition mixed with growing knowledge of and more widespread interest in the environment has led to non-consumptive enjoyment of wildlife and the environment, such as birding and nature photography. These activities are increasing while hunting is in decline. What have traditionally been called “slob hunters” or “game hogs” – those hunters who simply enjoy killing – are now being encouraged to do as they please. OFAH once disdained this demographic, but now it appears to me that they embrace them. This will be hunting not for food or sport, but for the sake and enjoyment of killing.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Another rude awakening for cormorants

By Katie Frankowicz

For The Daily Astorian

Published on April 3, 2017 9:03AM

The state will resume hazing cormorants on the Oregon Coast to protect salmon.


The state will resume hazing cormorants on the Oregon Coast to protect salmon.

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Cormorants facing possible death by shotgun blast at their colony near the mouth of the Columbia River don’t seem to have started house-hunting in less dangerous neighborhoods farther down the coast.

But as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife once again prepares to coordinate nonlethal hazing projects at various Oregon estuaries this spring, biologists will watch for changes in cormorant colonies south of the river.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the massive double-crested cormorant colony on East Sand Island, began a culling program in 2015 in an effort to manage the growing colony and reduce the number of young salmon the birds were estimated to consume annually. That year, the Army Corps’ contractors killed a total of 2,346 adult birds and oiled eggs — a process that prevents the eggs from hatching — in 5,089 nests. In 2016, the Corps reported a total of 2,982 adult birds killed.
Cormorant populations
So far there haven’t been any changes in populations elsewhere that state biologists can directly attribute to management activities on East Sand Island. Drawing a straight line from the Columbia River estuary to changing cormorant populations farther down the coast is difficult to do anyway.

“If we do see increases at the Oregon Coast colonies, we would be curious to know how this might be related to activities on the Columbia River,” said state biologist and avian predation coordinator James Lawonn. But, he added, “cormorant colonies naturally fluctuate quite a bit.”

The Department of Fish and Wildlife already monitors double-crested cormorant populations on the coast extensively. In addition to regular nonlethal hazing activities, when some monitoring can occur, there are regular aerial surveys and estuary surveys. On these excursions, biologists focus on a variety of bird species but also take note of the double-crested cormorants.

The state has not increased any of its monitoring activities in response to the Corps’ lethal management plan on East Sand Island. This is mostly because the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s own monitoring efforts along the coast and in the estuaries are already “pretty robust,” Lawonn said. “We feel that we’ve got our bases covered.”
Nonlethal hazing
Oregon plans to begin its nonlethal hazing activities in May, focusing on the Nehalem, Nestucca and Coquille river estuaries and Tillamook and Alsea bays before moving up to the Lower Columbia River area.

The cormorants are native to Oregon and are particularly prevalent on the state’s estuaries from April through October, according to a news release from the Department of Fish and Wildlife — overlapping with when wild-spawned and hatchery salmon juveniles are migrating from their origin streams to the ocean.

The hazing activities by the state are an effort to protect, in particular, spring migrants that are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Though some small pyrotechnics might be used, most often the state’s hazing techniques take the form of people driving around in boats, chasing cormorants away from areas where vulnerable — and valuable — juvenile salmon are concentrated.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has coordinated this cormorant hazing project for the last eight years, and such nonlethal hazing in one form or another has occurred at some Oregon estuaries since the late 1980s.

Thousands of cormorants abandon their nests

By Cassandra Profita

Oregon Public Broadcasting

Published on May 20, 2016 11:33AM

Last changed on May 23, 2016 10:03AM

A month-old double-crested cormorant at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.

Joshua Bessex/The Daily Astorian

A month-old double-crested cormorant at the Wildlife Center of the North Coast.

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A double-crested cormorant rests atop of nest of eggs in the colony on East Sand Island.

The Daily Astorian/File Photo

A double-crested cormorant rests atop of nest of eggs in the colony on East Sand Island.

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Officials say thousands of cormorants abandoned their nests on East Sand Island in the Columbia River and they don’t know why. Reports indicate as many as 16,000 adult birds in the colony left their eggs behind to be eaten by predators including eagles, seagulls and crows.

The birds’ mysterious departure comes after the latest wave of government-sanctioned cormorant shooting. It’s part of a campaign to reduce the population of birds that are eating imperiled Columbia River salmon.

Amy Echols, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the contractors who monitor the birds for the Corps reported May 16 that the East Sand Island colony had been significantly disturbed.

“The disturbance resulted in nest abandonment and the loss of all the cormorants’ eggs by avian predators like seagulls, eagles and crows,” she said. “We don’t know yet what the cause of the disturbance was.”

Officials didn’t see any evidence of a coyote or any other four-legged predator, but they did see 16 bald eagles on the island.

“Bald eagles are known to significantly startle and disperse nesting colonies,” Echols said. “We don’t know if that magnitude of bald eagles could have done this.”
Eagles may not be responsible
Bald eagles have been blamed for decimating Caspian tern and cormorant colonies on the island in the past. But Dan Roby, a researcher with Oregon State University who has studied the tern and cormorant colonies for decades, said he doesn’t think eagles could have flushed so many cormorants off their nests.

“I’m pretty confident that’s not what caused the cormorants to abandon the colony,” he said. “We’ve seen that number of eagles out there before. We’ve seen them killing cormorants on their nests, and it doesn’t cause that kind of abandonment.”

Roby said researchers on his team did an aerial survey of the island on Tuesday and saw a large group of cormorants on another part of the island. But the nesting area was completely abandoned.

“There were absolutely no cormorants anywhere in the colony,” he said. “It’s a real mystery for us. It actually amazes me that any kind of disturbance — even people going on the island if that’s what happened — could cause all the birds to leave their nests with eggs and then gather on the shoreline as if they were afraid to go back to their nests. It’s certainly unprecedented in all the years we were out there working on that cormorant colony.”
Biologists investigating
Echols said about 4,000 birds have returned to the island, but not the nesting area. A team of biologists is investigating what caused the birds to flee their nests.

Federal agents have been shooting cormorants in the area and oiling cormorant eggs on the island as part of a long-term plan to shrink the cormorant colony and reduce how many threatened and endangered salmon the birds are eating. They reported killing 209 cormorants between May 12 and Wednesday.

Officials haven’t attributed the disturbance of the cormorant colony to any shooting or egg oiling activity. Echols said the last time the agents were oiling eggs on the island was May 11. Agents were on the water shooting cormorants on May 16, she said, but they have now stopped all culling activities because the number of cormorants in the colony has dropped below the level where they’re required to stop.
Vocal critic
Bob Sallinger with the Portland Audubon Society has been a vocal critic of the Corps’ cormorant management plan. He said colony failure has been one of his chief concerns as federal agencies shrink the size of the cormorant population.

“When you do that, you make a population extremely vulnerable,” he said. “Regardless of whether this abandonment was caused by eagles or their own activities, the fact is they’ve gone in there and deliberately decimated the population. Federal agencies have deliberately put the western population of cormorants at direct risk, and it needs to stop.”

Echols said federal officials are monitoring the Columbia River estuary to see where all the cormorants have gone.

Roby said it’s still early enough in their breeding season that the birds could still return to their nests and lay more eggs to avoid complete colony failure for the year.

Federal hunters prepare to kill salmon-eating birds


Associated Press

Published:May 25, 2015 12:00AM
Last changed:May 25, 2015 10:04AM

Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times via AP
Double[breasted cormorants on East Sand Island in the Columbia River near Ilwaco, Wash., in 2011. Government hunters have begun scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to reduce the numbers of baby salmon they eat.


–> Wildlife Services is slated to file a plan with the corps next week before starting to kill the birds.

Government hunters have begun scouting an island at the mouth of the Columbia River as they prepare to shoot thousands of hungry seabirds to stop them from eating baby salmon.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Diana Fredlund said hunters from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency went to a small uninhabited island off Ilwaco, Wash., Thursday to survey the land before carrying out plans to reduce the population of double crested cormorants from about 14,000 breeding pairs to 5,600 pairs by 2018.

Double crested cormorants are large black birds with long necks, hooked bills and webbed feet that dive beneath the surface to eat small fish.

Wildlife Services is slated to file a plan with the corps next week before starting to kill the birds.

An environmental impact statement calls for them to shoot adult birds, spray eggs with oil so they won’t hatch, and destroy nests. Carcasses of dead birds will be donated to educational and scientific institutions, or otherwise disposed of through burial or incineration.

Biologists blame the cormorants for eating an average 12 million baby salmon a year as they migrate down the Columbia to the ocean. Some of the fish are federally protected species.

The cormorant population on East Sand Island near Ilwaco, Wash., has grown from about 100 pairs in 1989 to some 14,000 pairs now, making it the largest cormorant nesting colony in the West. Soil dredged from the bottom of the Columbia to deepen shipping channels was dumped on the island over the years, expanding the area available for nesting.

Conservation groups failed in a bid to get a federal judge to stop the killing, arguing dams on the Columbia kill far more young salmon than the birds do.

Bob Sallinger, conservation director of the Portland Audubon Society, said Wildlife Services and the corps should hold off for this year after getting started two months later than recommended. The late start would increase the suffering of the birds by producing more chicks that starve to death after their parents are killed.

“I think this demonstrates a remarkable level of indifference and ineptitude,” he said.

Cormorants are the latest birds targeted for eating baby salmon. Biologists pushed Caspian terns off Rice Island in the Columbia, and created nesting habitat in lakes in eastern Oregon and San Francisco Bay to draw them away from the mouth of the Columbia.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife also has been shooting and harassing cormorants on coastal rivers to protect salmon.

Sea lions are also killed to reduce the numbers of adult salmon eaten as they wait to go over the fish ladder at Bonneville Dam in the Columbia.