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The Double-Crested Cormorant

Symbol of Ecological Conflict

Dennis Wild

Publication Year: 2012

This is the story of the survival, recovery, astonishing success, and controversial status of the double-crested cormorant. After surviving near extinction driven by DDT and other contaminants from the 1940s through the early 1970s, the cormorant has made an unprecedented comeback from mere dozens to a population in the millions, bringing the bird again into direct conflict with humans. Hated for its colonial nesting behavior; the changes it brings to landscapes; and especially its competition with commercial and sports fishers, fisheries, and fish farmers throughout the Great Lakes and Mississippi Delta regions, the cormorant continues to be persecuted by various means, including the shotgun. In The Double-Crested Cormorant, Dennis Wild brings together the biological, social, legal, and international aspects of the cormorant's world to give a complete and balanced view of one of the Great Lakes' and perhaps North America's most misunderstood species. In addition to taking a detailed look at the complex natural history of the cormorant, the book explores the implications of congressional acts and international treaties, the workings and philosophies of state and federal wildlife agencies, the unrelenting efforts of aquaculture and fishing interests to "cull" cormorant numbers to "acceptable" levels, and the reactions and visions of conservation groups. Wild examines both popular preconceptions about cormorants (what kinds of fish they eat and how much) and the effectiveness of ongoing efforts to control the cormorant population. Finally, the book delves into the question of climate and terrain changes, their consequences for cormorants, the new territories to which the birds must adapt, and the conflicts this species is likely to face going forward.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiii

The word cormorant isn’t often the firrst thing on people’s minds when they wake in the morning and put on the coffee, but that is exactly how I began writing this book. The process itself really started almost a year earlier as an article in On the Water (OTW ), an outdoor magazine published on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, featuring fishing tales...

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pp. xv

The text of a book like The Double-Crested Cormorant does not stand alone without the informational “spine” provided by professionals in their fields. This includes spokespeople and biologists from conservation groups, state and federal agencies, and individuals who shared their specialized...

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1. Assault on Little Galloo Island: An Act of Desperation

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pp. 1-18

In the long run, 1998 was probably an average year, but it did have its own “firsts,” its own records set, and its own claims to fame. In the world at large, Serbs and ethnic Albanians fought bloody battles in Kosovo; neighboring adversaries, India and Pakistan, detonated several nuclear devices in multiple...

Part 1: Legend and Conqueror of Sky, Sea, and Land

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2. From Mysterious Rescuer to a Partner to a Fowl Curse

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pp. 21-27

Societies and civilizations often have more shared characteristics than they do traits that isolate them. Human cultures far apart in both time and geography have a way of applying different materials to accomplish the same goal or to suit the same need. Breads, tortillas, and noodles at the same......

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3. Flight: When a Dinosaur Looked Down upon Gravity

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pp. 28-40

The cormorant is a persistent goal seeker throughout its life cycle. Cormorants do not give up. They adapt. These birds, as examples of adaptive evolution, embody the ability to maximize their use of the environment to survive and prosper. In modern times, Phalacrocorax auritus, the double-crested cormorant, exploits the environmental worlds...

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4. A Time to Sink and Swim

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pp. 41-51

When a species manages to occupy a new ecological niche the adjustment signifies that the organism has undergone a number of physical and behavioral adaptations to permit it to do so. But when a species makes the quantum leap to inhabit an entirely new medium, it’s a sign that huge changes have...

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5. The Face of Extinction: Eggshells versus DDT

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pp. 52-68

Earlier we explored how birds like the double-crested cormorant most likely evolved and how they faced the many challenges in their four worlds. But there is a difference between challenges that tested the vigor of individuals and those that attacked the entire species. The cormorant’s flexibility, perseverance, and tenacious breeding behavior kept the species a step or two ahead...

Part 2: The Great Lakes: A Place of Conflict

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6. Champlain, Native Peoples, and Henderson Harbor

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pp. 71-79

Was it Henderson Harbor area men who killed so many cormorants that 1998 summer night on Little Galloo Island? The massive attack on the island bird rookery was clearly a calculated act with the specific intention of removing cormorants from the local environmental equation. The shooting...

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7. Fishing America’s “Fifth Coast"

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pp. 80-92

The dodgy conflicts in which double-crested cormorants ‹nd themselves involved time after time revolve around food, and food to them means fish. Although cormorants sit at the top of their food chain as aquatic predators, adult trout and salmon and some other fish do the same job. As top predators...

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8. Ashmole’s Halo: A Righteous Model of What Should Have Happened [Image Plates]

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pp. 93-102

The spring sun warmed Little Galloo Island’s fifty or so rocky acres and the waters of Lake Ontario surrounding it. The first cormorants to arrive that season settled on the water and the island’s stony beaches at the finish of their thousand-mile migration from the Gulf Coast states and the Carolinas. The...

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9. Little Galloo Island Revisited: Praise and Outrage

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pp. 103-124

When last we left Little Galloo Island, five men had turned the cormorant breeding colony into a shambles. New shotgun shell casings littered many parts of the ground. The newer casings could easily be distinguished from ones fired in earlier duck-hunting seasons by their gleaming, untarnished...

Part 3: Cormorants and the Law

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10. Treaties and Legislation: War of the Wilderness

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pp. 127-135

This legal passage was written and designed to specifically protect wild migratory birds from unrestricted hunting, collection, and persecution throughout their international range. Before 1918 no such federal or international protection existed. The quote is from US Code Title 16, chapter 7, subchapter II...

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11. Agencies and Wildlife Conservation at Work: Cormorants in a Vise

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pp. 136-152

The double-crested cormorant numbers about two million across its entire range, where they and trouble at all four points of the compass and several in between. The conflicts, aside from relatively minor ones centered on vegetation and competition with other birds, invariably focus on fish. And...

Part 4: The Channel Cat Comes of Age

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12. Catfish on a Shoestring: A Primer

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pp. 155-172

The tale of America’s catfish industry is the story of a southern industry begun literally out of many a row-crop farmer’s desperation to keep his ancestral farmland in his family’s hands. For some it was an out and out attempt to escape poverty. For others, owners of extensive farm holdings, the gradual or partial...

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13. The Annual Battle of the Ponds

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pp. 173-188

The New York Times archive contains an article by Ronald Smothers from 1989 titled “It’s Fish Farmers vs. Cormorants, and the Birds Are Winning.”1 The piece described how double-crested cormorants once flew over the vast “white gold” cotton fields of Mississippi’s delta region on the way to their wintering...

Part 5: The Past as a Clue to the Future

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14. Fortune, Timelines, and Their Intersections: When Worlds Collide

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pp. 191-197

Always, sometimes, never. Three simple adverbs that describe the realm of all possibilities. Also the range of choices human beings make. Heady stuff, it’s true, but the phrases and philosophy do apply to what happened to the ecology of the Great Lakes and in the South’s “catfish country.” A simple logic works...

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15. Concessions and Conclusions

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pp. 198-218

Always, sometimes, never. Three simple adverbs that describe the realm of all possibilities. Also the range of choices human beings make. Heady stuff, it’s true, but the phrases and philosophy do apply to what happened to the ecology of the Great Lakes and in the South’s “catfish country.” A simple logic works...


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pp. 219-228


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pp. 229-240


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pp. 241-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028122
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472117635

Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Double-crested cormorant -- North America.
  • Double-crested cormorant -- Economic aspects -- North America.
  • Bird pests -- North America.
  • Human-animal relationships -- North America.
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