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Double-crested or Pelagic cormorant? (Prince William Sound, Alaska USA) (1 Viewer)


Active member
Hi folks — knowing how frustrating it is when I keep posting ID questions here with no pics; I brought my Canon PowerShot 540SX with me on a Kenai Fjords glacier tour yesterday out of Seward, AK. :)

Couldn't get a single picture of any birds though... captain refused to turn the wind down or stop the boat from bouncing around a lot...

I did see a very dark grey long-necked bird in flight as we were pulling out past the barrier islands. Checking my laminated Alaska Birds field guide, I figured it had to be one of those two cormorant types; and based on how long its outstretched neck was, my money is on Double-crested.

Unless the Pelagic cormorant also flies with its neck outstretched and also happens to have as long a neck as the other guys (which the illustration in my field guide suggests it doesn't)?

Which is the more likely sighting this time of year in Prince William Sound? Or, are there other common, Double-crested-cormorant-resembling birds that just aren't mentioned in my (compact) field guide?


Well-known member
All Cormorants will fly with their neck outstretched normally.

Pelagic and Double-crested have a very different profile due to (relative) head size and shape plus a thick neck. But neck-length seems like a hard feature to try and distinguish with.

Probability (based on eBird) favors Pelagic, then Double-crested and finally Red-faced.

I think of Cormorants as more black than gray though. The description provided does not rule out a loon or heron for that matter 😉


Speak softly and carry a long lens
Except that herons usually fly with their necks folded :)

I wouldn't try to ID a cormorant as to species by neck length or thickness. But you should be able to tell a cormorant from a loon or duck.

"Very dark grey" (as opposed to glossy black) might mean it was a cloudy day, or it might mean it was an immature bird or one in non-breeding plumage. Immature double-crested may have obvious pale breast, but the others are just kind of dull and can be hard to differentiate.


Well-known member
Actually Pelagic commonly flys with its skinny neck fully stretched out while Double-crested has its thicker neck much more retracted in flight. The birds can often be distinguished this way, but without some experience it would be dubious to assign an identification based on these features. As others have noted, your description might fit some entirely different species.

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