Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Double-crested Cormorant - Nannopterum auritum
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General Comments Hardly any bird in North Carolina has increased in recent decades as dramatically as has the Double-crested Cormorant. Though it has been a common coastal bird for many decades, it has started to become very common at many of the reservoirs inland, where it used to be a rare bird and a good find. Despite hundreds of thousands (if not more) birds wintering along our coast, and despite it nesting at scattered locales from Florida to Canada, it is surprising that it has been found nesting at but three sites (two in the Croatan National Forest) in the state. The highest counts on CBCs are often from North Carolina waters, especially in the vicinity of Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets, where sandbars and shallow waters can be blackened by thousands upon thousands of cormorants. They forage in all types of waters, from the inshore ocean, to shallow bays, to small tidal creeks, to reservoirs and impoundments; however, shallow bays and areas near inlets are favored. It nests only at lakes, where there are scattered live or dead trees well out into the lake. However, recent data on nests are scarce or absent, and thus the state's current breeding population size is undetermined.

Only in the last few years (around 2021), the Double-crested and Neotropic cormorants were moved to a new genus, separate from the Great Cormorant, which retains the Phalacrocorax genus name; these smaller and New World species are now in the genus Nannopterum.

Breeding Status Breeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status SR
U.S. Status
State Rank S1B,S5N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Permanent resident, but breeding only at two or three sites. Coastally, abundant during migration and locally abundant in winter (such as around Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets). Also abundant in the Tidewater zone. Numbers are lowest in midsummer, but the species is generally present year-round (non-breeding) in tidal areas. Far inland, fairly common to locally common, mostly in migration and winter, at lakes and ponds. Breeds at Lake Ellis Simon in Croatan National Forest; formerly nested at Great Lake, also in that forest. A notable breeding record came in 2012, when a few pairs were found nesting with Brown Pelicans on Wainwright Island (Carteret), a first state nesting in a tidal area. Peak counts: 125,000, Hatteras Inlet, 2 Jan 1988. Inland: roughly 150 nests were at Great Lake, 1898 - 1911. The current nesting status is uncertain, as Lake Ellis Simon is privately owned and is not visible from public roads.
Piedmont Migrant and winter resident, with some birds all summer, increasing as non-breeders; breeds (or formerly bred) at one site. Records for all months, but breeds only at Jordan Lake, with a peak nest count of 25, in 1991. In the cooler months, locally common to abundant at larger reservoirs, particularly at Falls and Jordan lakes; less common elsewhere, but still locally common at reservoirs. Peak counts of non-breeders: 2,220, Falls Lake, 26 Mar 2004; 2,103, Jordan Lake CBC, 29 Dec 2002. Most or all nests of the birds at Jordan Lake are/were in dead trees, which over time fall into the lake; thus, there are fewer suitable trees for nesting with each passing year, and the nesting population there appears to be absent.
Mountains Year-round visitor. Generally uncommon but increasing, in the southern mountains (mainly Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania); rare in the northern mountains; scattered records nearly all year, with a peak from May to Aug. Peak count: ?
Finding Tips None needed. Spectacular concentrations of 10,000 or more individuals can be seen in winter in Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets. Numbers into the thousands can be seen at other coastal spots, as well, in the winter.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-16], LeGrand[2021-07-12], LeGrand[2013-11-22]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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NC Breeding Season Map
Map depicts assumed breeding season abundance for the species.