Digesting the huge meal

Last week’s Pied Cormorant was swallowing an over-sized fish which stayed ‘visible’ in its gullet while the bird dried its wings, fidgeted and finally hunkered down to digest its Christmas meal.


Cormorant - Kim Wormald

Pied Cormorant
Canon 5DIII, 1/1250, f/8.0, ISO 400


Birds have an oil gland (also called a preen gland or uropygial gland) which they use to oil their feathers and keep them waterproof – ‘like water off a ducks’ back’ – but this wouldn’t work well for diving birds as it would impact their capacity to dive by making them too buoyant. Cormorants use their oil gland to preen the feathers close to their bodies while leaving their wing feathers able to absorb water. This enables cormorants to dive deeply to catch fish while protecting their bodies from the cold.

It’s common to see diving birds like cormorants and darters drying their wings after emerging from the water. It’s less common to see their long, thin necks as distended as shown in these images. The width of the bird’s neck in the image above is particularly wide where its neck meets its body, it looks odd.



Uncomfortable cormorant - Kim Wormald
Pied Cormorant
Canon 5DIII, 1/1250, f/10, ISO 400


The bird looked very uncomfortable. It kept changing position and twisting its neck almost as though it was preening but it didn’t preen. It looked as though it was trying to push the large fish further along its gullet. At one point a dog walker went between the cormorant and the water, much closer to the bird than I was, but all the bird could do was look concerned, I don’t think it was capable of moving far at this stage.



Overfull Cormorant

Pied Cormorant
Canon 5DIII, 1/1250, f/10, ISO 400


After having dried its wings and fidgeted for some time the cormorant almost fell to the sand where it rested for several hours. Most of the time its eyes were closed and it would only occasionally squint in my direction. I waited until it opened its beautiful green eye to peek at me before pressing the shutter button for the image above.

I could have lowered the ISO and the shutter speed for these images but I was on the beach to photograph Hooded Plovers and their chicks and kept the settings ready in case the hoodies moved behind me.

Yesterday I was sent some fascinating statistics by Jetpack – during 2015 lirralirra was visited about 27,000 times by visitors from 114 countries – that is remarkable as lirralirra is just a little stand-alone site that pretty much relies on word of mouth to get around; in the early days I remember wondering if it would be more of a diary than a blog. So, a very special thank you to all lirralirra subscribers and visitors and I wish each and every one of you a wonderful 2016 filled with health, happiness and birdsong.

Happy birding, Kim


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10 comments to Digesting the huge meal

  • Kyle

    Oh wow amazing! So that was the same large fish inside? I wonder, wouldn’t a fish that size stand all slim chance of escaping or even damaging the birds stomach if eaten in that condition?? It must be an short upset stomach for the bird, I imagine the desperate large/flat fish inside wouldn’t agree well with the birds belly!?

    You have some other cool blogs as well, keep it up! 😉

    • lirralirra

      Yep, it was the fish shown in the ‘Christmas Feast’ post. I doubt that it would have had much chance of escaping but it was definitely difficult for the cormorant to swallow, and the bird was clearly uncomfortable for a very long time – I probably would have thought it was sick if I hadn’t seen it take the fish. It was vulnerable too as it seemed like it could hardly move. I’m guessing it might be a little more realistic in future but maybe taking a large fish is worth the effort. I’m sure you’re right about the bird’s belly too, it’s hard to imagine how the fish would have fitted in – no wonder the bird was struggling to digest it!

  • I really do love that second shot a lot! What a fun time watching that bird and I bet indeed it was very uncomfortable but what a great catch for dinner! Not surprised you have such wonderful statistics either!

    • lirralirra

      That is a sweet shot! Ha, I like it when you point something out and I go back for another look. I was surprised about the stats, I’m sure you’d find surprises with yours too 🙂

  • Thanks Kim, & congratulations on those stats. I know that I always open the post when I receive you email, & I imagine many others do too. I have a 5D Mark III, so recognize the quality of your work, which is outstanding!

    • lirralirra

      Thank you Pauli. I’m very happy with the 5DIII though very occasionally would appreciate more frames per second, it is a beautiful camera. We both have excellent taste!

  • That poor Cormorant. I suspect there are plenty of people who felt much the same after their Christmas dinners…
    Thank you so much for the feathered enchantment you provide week after week. I hope the New Year (and your life) are full of birds, love and laughter.

  • Tamsin

    Happy new year to you too!

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