Birds – Harris’s Cormorant

In 1898 a remarkable flightless Cormorant (Phalacrocorax or Nannopterum harrisi) was described from the Galapagos Islands. So far as then known it was found only on the north shore of Narborough Island, where it frequented the surf, being very shy and difficult to approach. It is the largest known Cormorant, being if anything larger than the extinct Pallas’s Cormorant. The mature bird is brownish black above and a mixture of pale brown and gray below, with the tail black, and the wing-quills blackish brown with grayish tips on the outer margin. The feathers are soft and quite incapable of supporting the bird in flight, being of about the size of those of the Great Auk. The true Cormorants possess eleven primaries in the wings, only ten of which are functional, while in the Harris’s Cormorant there are also eleven primaries, but the two outer are very greatly reduced, leaving only nine that are functional. There are also numerous differences in the skeleton, showing that the loss of flight has produced important modifications. They are reported as being abundant in the surf and on the shore and rocks of Narborough Island, and less numerous on Albemarle Island. “When on shore they sit in an upright position and often extend the wings with their planes vertical, somewhat in the manner of Vultures while digesting their food. In the water they have a very graceful appearance, carrying the neck bent in a very Swan-like fashion. The adults never were heard to make any sound. The food consists largely of devil-fish, which the birds obtain by diving. Some were observed swallowing devil-fish more than a foot in length. Fish also form a part of their food. The young are fed by the parents’ disgorged food until they have attained nearly adult size.” The nests were made of cone-shaped masses of seaweed about a foot high.