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Tucson is located in the Sonoran Desert and bodies of standing water are scarce. Most of the naturally flowing streams in the area dried up long ago, a consequence of human activity. But, there is some standing and flowing water in and around Tucson, consisting of streams that have been revived with treated wastewater, several parks with man-made ponds and small lakes, and irrigation canals in the rural communities that are nearby. It is not unusual to find Neotropic Cormorants living and even thriving in some of these bodies of water.
These birds show up in only a handful of places in the Tucson area. They are relatively common in coastal areas in Mexico. Unlike some species of Cormorant, they prefer fresh water for their habitats. It’s a good question as to whether the local birds are descended from individuals that migrated here relatively recently or are the remnants of a larger population that inhabited the area when there was more standing water.
Neotropic Cormorants (indeed, all Cormorants) are aquatic birds in every sense of the word. They have evolved to swim and to hunt small aquatic creatures. In the water they are astonishingly graceful. On land, they are awkward and gawky. The other day I came across a small but community of about a dozen of these birds in Reid Park in urban Tucson. The Cormorants at Reid Park are totally inured to humans and it is possible to approach to within a couple of feet of them when they are not in the water.
When Cormorants are ashore they frequently spread and flap their wings.
I did a bit of research as to why they do this and there is no dispositive answer. Some say they do it in order to dry their feathers. Others believe that it is a form of thermoregulation: by spreading and flapping their wings they expose more surface areas of their bodies to warm air or the sun and that enables them to warm up more quickly.
All Cormorants have long beaks that are hooked at the tip. Neotropic Cormorants have this feature, of course, but their most prominent feature isn’t their beaks. It is their startling, turquoise-colored eyes.
No other bird that I’m aware of has eyes that are this brilliantly blue.
Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400mm ISII zoom lens, aperture priority setting, ISO 400. The first two images shot at f7.1 @ 1/1250, the third at f7.1 @ 1/400.