Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo
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General Comments The Great Cormorant is still another species that 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, then numbers stabilized since about 1995, but have trended downward since about 2018-2020. 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 mostly 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 S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Declining in recent years. Winter resident and visitor along the coast, but only in very small numbers. 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 (formerly?), 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 13 records, all at reservoirs in the eastern and central parts 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); Lake Townsend (29 Nov - 15 Dec 2017 and again 17 Mar - 6 May 2018); Lake Norman in both Mecklenburg andLincoln sites on 4 Dec and 27 Dec 2020 (likely the same bird); and Lake Townsend, 28 Nov 2021 - 3 May 2022. This last record seems to be the first of a conclusively overwintering individual for the province.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips The species is reliably seen at just a few places along the NC coast. Your best bet is at Wrightsville Beach (on the jetties or pilings at the south end of the town); pilings at Cape Lookout (which can be difficult to reach for the average person) and pilings in Pamlico Sound near Ocracoke are also somewhat reliable. 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.
Attribution LeGrand[2024-02-10], LeGrand[2023-03-16], LeGrand[2022-12-22]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.