Cool fact…
One of the more striking features of Heard Island lies underfoot. Mixed in among the grains of black volcanic sand are glassy green crystals of the mineral olivine. Most crystals are very small, but some are up to 4 mm long.

Heard Island cormorant

Colony of Heard Island cormorants
Colony of Heard Island cormorants (Photo: E Woehler)

Vital statistics

Scientific name: Phalacrocorax atriceps (also known as the blue-eyed or imperial cormorant or shag)

Appearance: White-breast, black back and largely white cheeks and neck.

Wingspan: 1.1 m

Length: around 70 cm

Weight: approximately 2.5kg

Breeding age: No data from Heard Island

Breeding frequency: Annual

Breeding season: Courtship activities begin in late August to early October. Two to three eggs are laid in October through to early January, and these hatch in November to February. Fledging occurs in January to March, and the adults leave the colonies in April. Cormorants are present all year round at Heard Island.

Longevity: No data from Heard Island, probably to 10 years

Foraging statistics

What do I eat? Mainly fish and invertebrates.

What eats me? There are no known predators. Skuas and gulls may take eggs or small chicks from nests.

Range trip time: Most foraging trips are short – typically only a few hours.

Range trip length: Feed in coastal shallow waters.

Distribution & abundance

Distribution: Blue-eyed cormorants breed in colonies on the west coast of southern South America, at South Georgia, South Sandwich, South Orkney and South Shetland Islands and on the Antarctic Peninsula south to 68° S. Breeding populations are also present on Heard Island, Îles Kerguelen and Macquarie Island. The taxonomic status of these breeding populations is presently unclear, but it is likely that the Heard Island cormorant will be recognised as an endemic species. Birds breed on coastal cliffs, near shore vegetated stacks, and among low-lying vegetation.

Abundance: A breeding colony of approximately 850 pairs was discovered at Cape Pillar in 2000/01. The previous breeding population had been believed to be between 100 and 200 pairs in three colonies (Stephenson Lagoon, Saddle Point, Sydney Cove). The total population is now believed to number approximately 1000 breeding pairs at Heard Island.

Conservation status

The species is a listed threatened (vulnerable) and marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

The species is covered by the Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000.

General comments

Heard Island cormorants are gregarious throughout the year, and sometimes gather in large flocks, particularly in the winter.

This page was last modified on 28 February 2005.