Animals -> Birds -> Other Birds -> Cormorants


Cormorants were important to many cultures and is reported to have been consumed by the Coast Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka'wakw), Nuxalk, Haida, Tlingit and Red Earth Cree, among others [1-5]. The Tlingit are reported to also have eaten cormorant, referred to as shags along the Pacific coast [6], and Coast Salish are reported to have eaten cormorant eggs [7]. Cormorants, also were sometimes called a “diving-duck” by Coast Salish [8]. The double-crested cormorant was important throughout the Pacific and Atlantic coast as well as on fresh water in the interior, but Atlantic coast cultures likely also consumed the Great Cormorant and Pacific coast cultures likely also consumed the Pelagic Cormorant and Brandt’s Cormorant. Coast Salish bands were known to own colonies of cormorants. Every year, they would approach the nesting areas to take birds and eggs that would be distributed among band members [9]. In the St. Lawrence Island area, the cormorant helped to diversify the Yupik summer diet [10, 11]. Wainwright Inupiat also ate the double-crested cormorant, especially in spring and early summer; to lure them closer, hunters would imitate their call [12].

Some cultures used nets near cormorant nesting sites located high on cliff rookeries [1]. Nets were also used in spring at cormorant feeding areas, where they were anchored with rocks, and kept floating with wooden sticks. As the birds swam toward the shore, they would get caught beneath the net and drown [8]. Others used whalebone snares comprised of a line of weighted nooses set along the edge of a lake. When the birds were caught in the line, they would be pulled to shore [1].

In the dark of night, the Coast Salish caught cormorants from their canoes. Hunters would light a fire inside the canoe. The man in front would sit and paddle, while a second hunter would wait, ready with a multi-pronged spear. The fire and noise would wake the flocks and as the birds swam or flew in chaos, they became easy prey. Cormorants were killed with spears made of a wooden shaft and pointed barbs of yew or deer/whale bone. The spears used by the Samish are reported to have had four barbs, while those of the Lummi had five. The hunter could throw or thrust his spear at the birds. If the flock flew toward the canoe, the hunter held out his weapon and the birds flew into it. The man paddling also could catch birds with his bare hands [8].

Cormorants were roasted by Coast Salish after feathers had been plucked by the women. The meat was sometimes covered with goose or mallard fat before eating. After cooking the meat, it was also commonly preserved for later winter consumption by hanging outside, near a fire to dry [8]. Some Northwest Coast peoples are reported to have avoided eating cormorants because they are said to be difficult to pluck and to have tough meat [13].

For some, the cormorant was a common food at feasts and it made a lovely gift from a hunter to his fellow community members [8]. Cormorants and their eggs were also used in trading by the Coast Salish [9], and cormorant skin was used in making parkas [1]. Coats and rugs were also made from the bird [14].


1.         Damas D (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 5: Arctic. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1984.

2.         Suttles W (ed.): Handbook of North American Indians, Volume 7: Northwest Coast. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution; 1990.

3.         Moss ML: Haida and Tlingit use of seabirds from the Forrester Islands, Southeast Alaska. Journal of Ethnobiology 2007, 27(1):28-45.

4.         Meyer D: Appendix I: Plants, Animals and Climate; Appendix IV: Subsistence-Settlement Patterns. In: The Red Earth Crees, 1860-1960. Volume 1st edition, edn.: National Musem of Man Mercury Series; 1985: 175-185-200-223.

5.         Kuhnlein HV: Traditional and Contemporary Nuxalk Foods. Nutrition Research 1984, 4:789-809.

6.         Oberg K: The Social Economy of the Tlingit Indians. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press; 1973.

7.         Barnett HG: Food; Occupations. In: The Coast Salish of British Columbia. Volume 1st edition, edn. Eugene: University of Oregon; 1955: 59-107.

8.         Suttles WP: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians. In: Coast Salish and Western Washington Indians The Economic Life of the Coast Salish of Haro and Rosario Straits. edn. New York & London: Garland Publishing Inc.; 1974.

9.         Ashwell R: Food, Fishing & Hunting; Cooking Methods. In: Coast Salish: Their Art, Culture and Legends. Volume 1st edition, edn. British Columbia: Hancock House Publishers Inc.; 1978: 28-55.

10.       Geist OW, Rainey FG: Archaeological Excavations at Kukulik St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. In: Volume II of the Miscellaneous Publications of the University of Alaska. edn. Washington: United States Government Printing Office; 1936.

11.       Findlay MC: The Means of Improving the Economic Situation of the Ungava Bay Eskimos. McGill University, Montreal; 1955.

12.       Nelson RK: Hunters of The Northern Ice. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press; 1969.

13.       Kirk R: Daily Life. In: Wisdom of the Elders: Native Traditions on the Northwest Coast- The Nuu-chah-nulth, Southern Kwakiutl and Nuxalk. edn. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre in association with The British Columbia Provincial Museum; 1986: 105-138.

14.       Vaughan R: Birds and Arctic peoples. In: In Search of Arctic Birds. edn. London: T & A D Poyser; 1992: 20-48.

Cormorants represent a family of duck-like diving birds, most commonly found along coastlines and around inland water bodies. They are mostly iridescent black and have a long hooked bill, a streamlined body, a long neck, stout legs set far back, and dark webbed feet. Like diving ducks, cormorants are powerful swimmers, diving up to 10 m deep to pursue underwater prey. Unlike ducks, resting cormorants dry wet feathers by holding their wings in a spread-wing posture. Some cormorant populations migrate long distances, while others remain year-round within breeding areas. They nest in colonies and couples re-breed each year. They first breed after their second year and can live between 10 and 15 years [1].

In North America, cormorants include the more common and widespread Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) [2], the Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) with a small range restricted to the northern Atlantic coast [3], as well as the Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus) [4] and Brandt’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) [5], both of which occur along the Pacific coast.


1.         Nelson JB: Pelicans, cormorants and their relatives : Pelecanidae, Sulidae, Phalacrocoracidae, Anhingidae, Fregatidae, Phaethontidae Oxford: Oxford University Press; 2005.

2.         Hatch JJ, Weseloh DV: Double-crested Cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1999.

3.         Hatch JJ, Brown KM, Hogan GG, Morris RD: Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 2000.

4.         Hobson KA: Pelagic Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pelagicus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1997.

5.         Wallace EA, Wallace GE: Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus). In: The Birds of North America Online. Edited by Poole A. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; 1998.


Distribution maps provided below, unless otherwise stated, were obtained from Birds of North America Online, maintained by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all pictures provided below were obtained from Encyclopedia of Life
Double-crested Cormorant
© Greg Lasley
Creator: Greg Lasley
Great Cormorant
© Blake Matheson
Supplier: Flickr: EOL Images
Photographer: Blake Matheson
Pelagic Cormorant
© Soheil Zendeh
Creator: Soheil Zendeh
Brandt's Cormorant
© L Pittman
Creator: L Pittman