Spectacled cormorant

Extinct in 1850
  • Spectacled cormorant
  • Spectacled cormorant

One of the rarest bird species – Spectacled cormorant

The Lost Zoo is proud to be one of the six institutions in the world today, which keep the Spectacled cormorant or Pallas's cormorant (Phalacrocorax perspicillatus). This cormorant is the largest species of all recent cormorant species, which are divided often into only two genera, Nannopterum (Flightless Galapagos cormorant) and Phalacrocorax (all the other cormorant species). The Spectacled cormorant had a body weight of more than 6 kg and was therefore much larger than the other still living cormorants. Even the Flightless cormorant (Nannopterum harrisi) from the Galapagos Islands which reaches a maximum size of 100 cm wing-span and a body weight of 5 kg, is smaller, whereas the smallest species, the Pigmy cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmaeus), which is found from South-East Europe to South-West Asia, is as little as 45 cm and weighs only 340 g.

Stuffed Spectacled cormorant<br>@courtacy of Naturalis Biodiversity Center Coastline of Kamchatka

Stuffed Spectacled cormorant
@courtacy of Naturalis Biodiversity
(Click to view larger image).

Coastline of Kamchatka
(Click to view larger image).

The Spectacled cormorant inhabited the Bering Island and possibly other places in the Komandorski Islands and the nearby coast of Kamchatka in the far northeast of Russia. The species was first described by the German naturalist Georg Steller in 1741. He discovered the bird while on an expedition with Vitus Bering to Kamchatka and in which is now known as Bering Sea. At this time the Spectacled cormorant was quite a common bird on the rocky shores of the Bering Island. It seems, however, that it did not breed there, but only on the offshore islets, due to the large population of Arctic foxes on the main island. These foxes were probably their only natural enemy.

Spectacled cormorant drawn in 17th century Spectacled cormorant on the stamps of Mozambique & Russia

Spectacled cormorant drawn in 17th century
(Click to view larger image).

Spectacled cormorant on the stamps of Mozambique & Russia
(Click to view larger image).

Not much is known about the biology of this large cormorant. Steller described the bird as large, clumsy and almost flightless. But different to the Galapagos cormorant, which is definitely flightless, the Spectacled cormorant was probably reluctant to fly rather than physically unable. In fact its clumsy gait and inexperience with humans may have caused its extinction. This combination made the bird an easy victim for whalers and other hunters who killed the cormorant for its meat. Already Steller mentioned that one single cormorant was sufficient for three starving men. Though cormorants are normally bad-tasting, Steller says that this bird tasted delicious, particularly when it was cooked in the way of the native people of the Kamchatka area, who encased the whole bird in clay and buried it and baked it in a heat pit. The Spectacled cormorant’s declined quickly after more visitors to the area started collecting the birds for food, especially when more and more whalers and fur traders came in this region, which became famous for profitable whaling and large populations of Arctic foxes and other mammals with valuable pelts.

Pigmy cormorant Galapagos cormorant

Pigmy cormorant
(Click to view larger image).

Galapagos cormorant
(Click to view larger image).

The Spectacled Cormorant survived until the middle of the 19th century. When Leonhard Stejneger, Curator of the U.S. National Museum, visited the area in 1882, the species had not been seen for the last 30 years. Natives told Stejneger that its last stronghold had been the small island named Ariy Rock on the northwestern corner of the Bering Island. The Spectacled cormorant is declared as extinct since 1850.
Only a very few specimens of the Spectacled Cormorant have been preserved. In fact, probably none would have been saved, if Mr. Kuprianof, District Governor in Alaska, would not have been interested in this bird species. Today, all seven known museum specimens were sold or donated by him. Two skins are stored the Natural History Museums in Tring (England), two in St. Petersburg, one in Dresden, one in Helsinki and one specimen in the Leiden Museum. The Leiden specimen was originally shipped to the museum in St. Petersburg, which donated it later to Leiden.

Spectacled cormorant enclosure in LOST ZOO

Spectacled cormorant enclosure
(Click to view larger image).

Therefore our Lost Zoo is proud and happy to keep now this impressive cormorant and we hope the husbandry in our Lost Zoo will offer us and the scientists some more impressions and knowledge about the biology of this almost unknown cormorant species.

Executive Curator

Spectacled cormorant

Body length: about 81 cm, with a 22.9 cm long tail; wings 35.6 cm; beak 10.2 cm.

Body weight: 6.3 kg

Nest: Nothing is known about the form and size of the nest, but it can be assumed that it will be similar to other cormorant species. The Spectacled cormorants too are colony breeders.

Habitat: On the rocky coasts of the Bering Island and some other places of the Aleutian Islands in the North Pacific. Good diver, and hunting under the water surface for fish.

Extinction: First described and still quite common in 1741, but especially in 1826 the species was overhunted and became extinct in 1850.

Spectacled cormorant