Little Pied Cormorant

Microcarbo melanoleucos

Little Pied Cormorants. Photo: John Spiers

Little pied Cormorants are very common. They may be found on almost any body of water in Australia and large flocks may be found where food is plentiful.

The short, hooked bill of Little Pied Cormorants is ideal for feeding on crustaceans. They also take fish, amphibians, and aquatic insects. The claws of yabbies are shaken off before eating. Exotic fish species such as carp Carassius auratus) and perch (Perca fluviatilis) form a large part of their diet. Prey is captured by pursuit-diving. They tend to forage alone even when they gather in large flocks.

Little Pied Cormorant with orange-stained, white feathers of face, throat and abdomen. Photo: John Spiers

Breeding may occur throughout the year with a peak in October/November. Much depends on local water conditions and its effect on their prey. They nest colonially in the company of other water birds, in trees and bushes. Males call to prospective mates from a chosen nest site. Should she land nearby she is greeted by a deep bow. If accepted the male will gather material for the female to build the nest of sticks and lined with leaves and grass. The clutch consists of 3 to 5 pale blue eggs. Both parents incubate the eggs. The chicks are born naked but soon grow a black down except for the bare orange head.

Only the nominate sub-species is found in Australia i.e. Microcarbo m. melanoleucos (Vieillot, 1817).



Little Pied Cormorants have a long tail and a stubby bill. The adults have a black cap which does not extend to the eyes. The nape, back, wings and tail are greyish black. The upper wing coverts have an olive sheen. The face, throat and underparts are white, except for the black undertail coverts. Unlike other pied cormorants the thighs are white in adults. The white feathers may become stained orange by iron compounds in the water. The legs and feet are black, and the iris is brown. In breeding plumage, the head feathers are longer, and form a short erectile crest on the forecrest. The bare skin found on the eye ring, lores, gape and the base of the mandible is olive-black. The bill is orange-yellow with a blackish ridge. In non-breeding plumage the head feathers are shorter, the head crest is less pronounced, the bill is yellow rather than orange-yellow, and the bare skin is yellow. Males and females are alike except that males are slightly larger. In immatures the head cap is paler, more mottled and extends below the eye. The thighs are blackish, the bill dusky, yellow at the base, and the gular pouch dull pink-yellow.

Where to find it

Little Pied Cormorants are common and widespread across South Australia in suitable habitat. They prefer freshwater and can be found in a wide variety of wetlands and water bodies such as swamps. lakes, temporary flood waters, pools, dams and ponds. They may also be found in brackish and marine waters including lagoons, estuaries, mangrove swamps, harbours, saltpans and offshore islands. Trees and bushes are required near or over water for breeding. Adults tend to be sedentary, but they move from drought affected areas. Juveniles disperse widely.