Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
PHALACROCORACIDAE Members:
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General Comments The Great Cormorant is still another species that has greatly increased in the East over the past several decades. In fact, the species was absent from the North Carolina list until 1971, when one was seen on the Bodie-Pea Island CBC. In actuality, the numbers increased along the coast for about 20 years, but numbers seem to have stabilized since about 1995. In fact, overwintering birds are regular only at a few locales, typically around inlets, especially ones with extensive jetties or many tall pilings. Yet, the distribution is a bit of a mystery, such as why the species winters regularly at Masonboro Inlet at Wrightsville Beach, but seems to avoid wintering farther up the coast in Carteret, such as in Beaufort Inlet. A few have even been found well inland, at larger reservoirs.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S2N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter resident and visitor along the coast. Uncommon and local, mainly around inlets; generally from late Oct to early Apr, but many records for all months (very rare in midsummer). A few birds winter at Oregon, Hatteras, Ocracoke, New River, and Masonboro inlets, plus around Fort Fisher; most easily seen on tall pilings. Very rare to rare at other places along the coast. Seldom moves far up tidal rivers or in bays/sounds, though one record from Lake Phelps and one at Boiling Spring Lake (Brunswick) are slightly inland. Casual well inland: one immature seen at Goldsboro (Wayne) on 18 Oct 1988, and an immature seen at Walnut Creek Lake (Wayne) on 17 Dec 1994. Peak counts: 11, Fort Fisher, 4 Feb 1987; 11, New River Inlet, 12 Feb 1990. Casual well inland (away from tidal water), with 3-4 records.
Piedmont Very rare migrant and winter visitor. About 11 records, all at reservoirs in the eastern half of the province: Jordan Lake (19 May 1990), Lake Townsend (Guilford) (7 May 1994), Roanoke Rapids Lake (11 Feb 1996 -- two birds), Lake Brandt (Guilford) (22 Oct 1997), Jordan Lake (30 Oct 2000), Jordan Lake (8 Jan 2008 -- two birds), High Rock Dam (Stanly) (21 Oct 2008), Falls Lake (26 Nov 2008), Lake Townsend (22-23 Dec 2008), and Lake Townsend (29 Nov - 15 Dec 2017, and again 17 Mar - 6 May 2018). Surprisingly no record yet from Lake Norman.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The species is reliably seen at just a few places along the NC coast. Your best bet is in the lower Cape Fear River opposite Fort Fisher, on the pilings in the river. Other good spots are the southern end of Wrightsville Beach (on the jetties or pilings), pilings at Cape Lookout (which can be difficult to reach for the average person), and pilings in Pamlico Sound near Ocracoke. Bridge construction at Oregon Inlet has made finding the species there now quite difficult. Although the birds can often be identified by binoculars when they sit on the pilings, usually many hundred yards from you, a scope is usually needed to obtain thorough views. When the birds are swimming, separating the species from the abundant Double-crested Cormorant can be difficult; it is best to wait for the birds to perch to confirm the identification.
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Attribution LeGrand[2018-11-09], LeGrand[2018-02-20], LeGrand[2015-12-23]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.
NA Maps
(source NatureServe)

View NatureServe distribution maps for Phalacrocorax carbo