Anhinga vs Cormorant: 12 Key Differences

Anhinga Vs. Cormorant

Written by Chanel Coetzee

Updated: May 15, 2023

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Anhinga vs. cormorant: many people find it difficult to tell these two bird species apart. However, when you compare the two, you will find that there are many differences that one can identify to distinguish between the two birds. So, the next time you are out bird watching, and think you see one of these birds, here are some tips to help you identify the right one.

Incredible Facts About Anhingas

Anhinga Fishing

The Anhinga prefer to spend their days in shallow, slow-moving water, taking advantage of nearby rocks and perches to dry themselves off.

When the Anhingas enter the water, their feathers get soaked because they don’t possess any oil glands like other water birds. However, this allows them to move more efficiently through the water. Therefore, they have to stand in the sun with their wings extending to dry themselves when they are done in the water.

Other facts include the following:

  • They can weigh up to 2.7 pounds
  • Their nickname is water turkey because of their long tails
  • They use their large beaks to spear fish out of the water. First, however, they have to make it back to shore to find a rock or tree branch to help dislodge the fish from their beaks.

Incredible Facts About Cormorants

Cormorant neotropic perched on a branch in Denman Estate Park San Antonio

Cormorants reside along coastlines, ponds, bays, or rivers. They are extremely adaptable and live near most bodies of water, from the mangrove swamps to the rocky northern beaches and reservoirs of inland ponds.

The cormorant occurs in coastal locations, and their diets consist of small fish and other aquatic animals. However, they prefer to inhabit inland waterways, as they can’t survive in the open sea. As a result, they build their nests above rugged rocks.

Other facts include the following:

  • There are approximately 42 to 45 different species of cormorants
  • They can remain underwater for extended periods of time, up to one minute
  • These birds effortlessly glide through the water because their wings are shorter than many other bird species.

12 Key Differences Between the Anhinga Vs. Cormorant

AnhingaCormorant
2-5 eggs in on the clutch3-4 eggs in on the clutch
Short-distance migrantMedium-distance migrant
The average lifespan is 12 years in the wildThe average lifespan is 25 years in the wild
Mostly inhabit freshwatersIt inhabits mostly coastal waters.
Longer neck compared to cormorantShorter neck compared to Anhinga.
Hunt slower than cormorantHunts faster than Anhinga
Striking blue-green to reddish-colored eyes Crystal blue eyes
White markings on their backsNo marking on backs
Less compact than cormorantMore compact than Anhinga
Anhingas has a straight and long billCormorants have a curved, hooked bill
Longer tail than a CormorantShorter tail than Anhinga
Anhingas make a loud clicking sound, exactly like a raptor.Produces deep, guttural sounds

Anhinga Vs. Cormorant: What Are Their Differences?

While there are 12 key differences between the anhinga vs. cormorant, their lifestyle and environment also vary.

Habitat

The Anhinga prefer to spend their days in shallow, slow-moving water, taking advantage of nearby rocks and perches to dry themselves off. However, it is rare to see them during severe droughts as they need access to water. Furthermore, they are not fans of large bodies of open water but use the shores of bays and lakes to nest if they are easily accessible. In addition, they occur in colonies with other water birds like ibises, gulls, egrets, cormorants, and swans. They also breed in saltwater colonies but primarily stick to freshwater.

Alternatively, cormorants reside along coastlines, ponds, bays, or rivers. They are extremely adaptable and live near most bodies of water, from the mangrove swamps to the rocky northern beaches and reservoirs of inland ponds. Cormorants occur throughout the United States, and they build their nests above water or in trees on coastal cliffs. However, they will also build their nests on the ground sometimes.

Appearance

Anhingas are large water birds with black plumage, long tails, tiny heads, and snake-like necks. Their eyes differ in color from red to blue, with olive-brown beaks. Additionally, there are speckles and frayed silver-gray feathers on their upper backs and forewings that look grizzled and mottled on the forewings and upper back. These birds are often seen swooping for prey, similar to a hawk.

However, cormorants are small, long-tailed birds with black plumage and a shiny blue hue. These birds have yellow-gray bills, long hooked tips, and a yellowish V-shaped gular pouch. Furthermore, they have black legs and feet. They do not swoop like a hawk, but their wings do flap rapidly when they fly over the water at high speeds.

Size

Anhingas are large, measuring 35 inches long, and weighing around 2.7 pounds with a wingspan of 3.7 feet. However, their heads look strange because they are so small it resembles an extension of their snake-like neck.

Cormorants differ in size depending on the specie. For example, the pygmy cormorant measures 18 inches long and weighs around 12 ounces, while the flightless cormorant grows to 39 inches long and weighs approximately 11 pounds.

Diet

The Anhinga’s diet consists of small fishes and other aquatic prey like invertebrates and crabs. They are excellent swimmers and dive beneath the water’s surface to hunt for fish around the aquatic plants. Furthermore, they use their slightly elongated bill to pierce through the fish’s flanks.

However, cormorants primarily prey on fish. In Northern America, these birds eat, on average, a pound of fish daily. However, instead of catching one large fish, they prey on schools of tiny fish, which means they use more energy when hunting. But luckily, they focus on the easiest fish to catch, so they are rarely disappointed.

Behavior

While Anhingas are typically solitary and nocturnal animals, they may congregate with herons, gulls, egrets, and storks. However, they do not socialize with other members of their species except during mating season. Anhingas are very territorial and protective of their nests. If a threat comes too close, they extend their wings and crack their beaks to try and deter the intruder. However, if other water birds come too close, Anhingas will peck them on the chest and neck. These birds spend most of their time hunting or perched in trees when out of the water. You will often see them in the water sunbathing themselves with their wings stretched out. Additionally, they flap their wings to sun themselves and dry their feathers, like vultures. But, once the sun starts setting, they need to get to land, as they lose heat fast because they lack a coating of feathers to insulate their bodies.

Cormorants, on the other hand, are relatively social birds. They are found in small or big groups, both at their nesting sites and during the colder months. They hunt and eat in big flocks and breed in massive colonies. Furthermore, they travel in flocks. Cormorants are diurnal and spend most of the day fishing. These birds like to perch on an elevated platform with their wings outstretched after diving or fishing to dry their plumage. However, researchers aren’t sure if they spread their wings out to dry their feathers, as cormorants in captivity that don’t dive for food also stretch out their wings after feeding. These birds communicate by tactile displays and several calls, and males attract their mates by performing the wing wave show.

Similarities: Anhinga Vs. Cormorant

While there are many differences between the Anhinga and cormorant, there are also several similarities. For example, they both have long snake-like necks and like to perch along the shores of lakes, rivers, ponds, and other bodies of water. In addition, both birds primarily feed on fish and hunt beneath the surface of the water for their prey. Lastly, the Anhingas and cormorants don’t have oil glands, which is the reason their feathers can’t repel water. However, this is beneficial as it allows them to move more freely beneath the water when hunting.


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About the Author

Chanel Coetzee is a writer at A-Z Animals, primarily focusing on big cats, dogs, and travel. Chanel has been writing and researching about animals for over 10 years. She has also worked closely with big cats like lions, cheetahs, leopards, and tigers at a rescue and rehabilitation center in South Africa since 2009. As a resident of Cape Town, South Africa, Chanel enjoys beach walks with her Stafford bull terrier and traveling off the beaten path.

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