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Thursday, June 24, 2004


Japanese cormorant

* Japanese name: Umiu
* Scientific name:Phalacrocorax capillatus
* Description: Cormorants are striking, almost reptilian looking seabirds with long necks and bills. They are often seen standing on rocks with their wings held out to dry, their black feathers like the cloak of a witch or scarecrow. This primitive appearance has given them a sinister reputation. They grow to about 90 cm in length and their wingspan can reach 140 cm.
* Where to find them: On both the Sea of Japan coast and the Pacific Ocean coast, cormorants can be seen from northern Kyushu all the way to Hokkaido. The birds nest in groups on coastlines, often on rocky cliffs and sometimes with other bird species. The nests are plate-shaped, made of grass and seaweed. They lay 4-5 light-blue eggs from the end of April to July
* Food: Fish, including herring, rock fish and striped goby
* Special features: Diving ability. Cormorants dive and swim underwater to hunt fish, which is why for more than a millennium they have been used by fishermen in Japan. Traditional cormorant fishing -- ukai -- involves fishermen using birds on leashes to catch fish (such as trout). Japanese cormorants are sexually dimorphic: The male is 25 percent heavier than the female, and can dive deeper and for longer than the female. Males can reach depths of 15 meters and remain underwater for almost a minute. Birds of both sexes dive quickly to their maximum depth, hunt for fish during a "bottom phase," and ascend. In ukai fishing, a metal ring is fastened around the base of the cormorant's neck, preventing it from swallowing any fish. A fire burning in a metal basket on the fishing boat attracts fish to the surface, and the birds dive on their leashes to catch them. Although this may seem like a cruel practice, in one way ukai cormorants do well out of it: The lifespan of a wild cormorant is about 4 to 5 years, but a ukai bird, well fed and cared for by the fishermen, can expect to live 15 to 20 years. Of course, fishing birds don't get to copulate and raise offspring, but you can't have it all.

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