Status Assessment of Double-Crested Cormorants in Western North America
The status of the double-crested cormorant (Phalacrocorax auritus) in western North America was last evaluated during 1987-2003. In the interim, concern has grown over the potential impact of predation by double-crested cormorants on juvenile salmonids (Oncorhynchus spp.), particularly in the Columbia Basin and along the Pacific coast where some salmonids are listed for protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Recent re-evaluations of double-crested cormorant management at the local, flyway, and federal level warrant further examination of the current population size and trends in western North America. We collected colony size data for the western population (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and the portions of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico west of the Continental Divide) by conducting aircraft-, boat-, or ground-based surveys and by cooperating with government agencies, universities, and non-profit organizations. In 2009, we estimated approximately 31,200 breeding pairs in the western population. We estimated that cormorant numbers in the Pacific Region (British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California) increased 72% from 1987-1992 to circa 2009. Based on the best available data for this period, the average annual growth rate (λ) of the number of breeding birds in the Pacific Region was 1.03, versus 1.07 for the population east of the Continental Divide during recent decades. Most of the increase in the Pacific Region can be attributed to an increase in the size of the nesting colony on East Sand Island in the Columbia River estuary, which accounts for about 39% of all breeding pairs in the western population and is the largest known breeding colony for the species (12,087 breeding pairs estimated in 2009). In contrast, numbers of breeding pairs estimated in coastal British Columbia and Washington have declined by approximately 66% during this same period. Disturbance at breeding colonies by bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and humans are likely limiting factors on the growth of the western population at present. Because of differences in biology and management, the western population of double-crested cormorants warrants consideration as a separate management unit from the population east of the Continental Divide.
- Jessica Adkins (OSU) and 7 co-authors
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