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As we wander around our island we may notice that birds are standing on buoys or rocks with their wings held out in what is known as the heraldic posture. These are Comorants . Alow me to explain why they adopt this posture.
As they feed on the seabed and have to dive some distance to get there and also to move about when the get there, they have to lose their buoyancy which means having to get rid of all the air that is trapped in their wings and body. They have modified barbs which allow air to escape and water to penetrate their plumage. This makes them more efficient underwater. This has it's drawbacks though as when they surface they are very heavy. and after a feeding session have to get rid of this water. So this is why you will see them with wings outstretched drying their wings. This they can also do on the water which is incredibe to see, and also very comical. They may hold this pose for a long time and even do it when it is raining, which seems to defeat the purpose, however they know best.
Identification. Springtime. In full breeding dress they are very handsome(if you can find a comorant handsome). Black, glossed blue and bronze, with a white throat and thigh patch which is flashed during courtship display. All around Bute you will see them , either feeding in great numbers if a shoal of fish has been spotted, or on their own. Counts around Bute are quite high, with myself recording eighty seven on the rocks at Garroch Head itself, with a total of the south end of one hundred and eighty seven. That was from Kilchattan Bay to Scalpsie Bay. This is the area that I find most casualties on the shore. Cause of death unknown. Quite a few of them have rings on their legs, so I take them off and send them with an accompanying letter to The British Museum in London. This address is on every ringed bird. They will send a postcard to say that they have received it, and eventually send on a letter telling you where and when it was ringed, and by whom, how many days that it had survived, and direction in degrees from where it was ringed to where it was found. Also a grid reference of where it was ringed, to one where it was found. The farthest away of one that I found came from Cumbria. It had survived for 1011days, and travelled for 147 km. I did not find the body of this one, only the ring which had been taken off the dead bird and left on the top of a gate post as you enter Scalpsie Bay. I set it off just the same even though I did not know at that time what species it had came from. But the B.T.O knew and soon sent me the details. These birds seem at home in fresh or salt water and can be seen in all our lochs at any time.
A great deal of their time is spent doing nothing, more so if the fishing for food has been good, they can be seen perched on fence posts, trees and rocks drying themselves off, or just having a lazy time. these birds are exploited in the far east by having a ring put on their neck to stop them swallowing fish, then they have a rope attached to them to stop them getting away, then they are taught to dive for fish for their masters. This system was also used by King James the 1st who had a" Master of Comorants" on the Thames. They are strange birds , who will build their nest out of seaweed on rocks or in trees, who dive deep and exsist on bottom feeding fish , like eels, yet seem a very docile species as I have yet to see a pair of them fighting, or even chasing other species away from their feeding area. They seem to be a" live and let live variety" which is uncommon nowadays.
First published in the Buteman 25-10-2002.
Smaller birds in my images are Shags, which have a tuft of hair on top of their head, which is more noticeable if they have been out of the water for a while, and I will write about them at a later date.