Most of these birds including Northern Hemisphere species, have mainly dark plumage, but some Southern Hemisphere species are black and white, and a few (e.g. the Spotted Shag of New Zealand) are quite colourful. Many species have areas of coloured skin on the face which can be bright blue, orange, red or yellow, becoming more brightly coloured in the breeding season. The bill is long, thin, and sharply hooked. Their feet have webbing between all four toes. They range in size from the Pygmy Cormorant at as little as 45 cm (18 in) and 340 g, to the Flightless Cormorant at a maximum size 100 cm (40 in) and 5 kg.

Habitat and Distribution

They are coastal rather than oceanic birds, and some have colonised inland waters. They range all around the world, except for the central Pacific islands.


All are fish-eaters, dining on small eels, fish, and even water snakes. They dive from the surface, though many species make a characteristic half-jump as they dive, presumably to give themselves a more streamlined entry into the water.


Cormorants are colonial nesters, using trees, rocky islets, or cliffs. The eggs are a chalky-blue colour. There is usually one brood a year.