Little Black Cormorant

Phalacrocorax sulcirostris

Little Black Cormorant. Photo: John Spiers

Skeins of large numbers of Little Black Cormorants returning from fishing grounds to roost for the night are a common sight along large rivers and inland lakes such as the Coorong and Murray estuary. Large numbers are also often to be seen drying their wings along the banks of rivers and lakes and on water side trees. They are probably our most common cormorant species.

Little Black Cormorant. Photo: John Spiers

Little Black Cormorants feed mainly on fish, taking large numbers of introduced fish such as carp and perch, and capturing their prey by pursuit-diving. They often gather in large numbers to co-operatively herd fish into dense shoals. They will also prey on crustaceans and other invertebrates. They have a longer, thinner bill than Little Pied Cormorants and take a different range of prey.

Little Cormorants breed mainly from spring to autumn depending on food supply. The nest is a platform of sticks and debris placed in a tree or bush, often in the company of Little Pied Cormorants and Darters. The clutch size is normally 3-4 but may be up to 6. Both sexes incubate. The chicks are hatched naked and grow black down.


Little Black Cormorants may be distinguished from Great Cormorants, the other all black cormorant species in South Australia, by their small size, proportionately longer tail, thin bill and absence of coloured skin about the face. The underparts are a uniform glossy black. Coverts on the back and wings have a coppery sheen in the centre of each feather, which has a black edge, giving a scaled appearance overall. The iris is bright blue-green, the bare skin around the face is blackish, and the bill is grey. In breeding plumage, thin, white nuptial plumes develop over the eyes and sides of the neck. These are lost by the time the young are nestlings. Males and females are alike. Juveniles are duller, have a pinkish brown gular patch, a dull yellow bill and brown eyes. Little Black Cormorants, Phalacrocorax sulcirostris (Brandt, 1837) are monotypic having no subspecies.

Where to find it

Little Black Cormorants are widespread and common in suitable habitats in South Australia. They prefer inland waters such as lakes, swamps, reservoirs and ponds, to marine waters. They may also be found on sheltered coastal waters such as estuaries, inlets, and lagoons. Large numbers may be seen on the Coorong and Murray estuary for example.

They are largely sedentary but will move when forced to by droughts, or floods. Often found in larger numbers along the coast when drought conditions prevail inland.