Friday 17 May
Socotra cormorant (Phalacrocorax nigrogularis)
Socotra cormorant fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Socotra cormorant description
The enormous colonies of Socotra cormorants form a spectacular sight. With their primarily black plumage, black bill, and black legs, the mass of jostling black shapes almost appear like a single moving organism, blanketing and enveloping the sandy bays on which they live. At the start of the breeding season, adult Socotra cormorants are in peak condition, sporting an extra glossy black plumage on their head, neck, rump and underparts (5). The back and wings are a shiny dark bronze-green colour, and during the breeding season, fine, white flecks appear on the neck of both sexes (2) (5).
- Cormoran de Socotra.
- Length: 80 cm (2)
Socotra cormorant biology
A highly gregarious species, the Socotra cormorant lives, breeds and often forages in enormous, dense colonies of up to tens of thousands (2) (5). While this bird is primarily sedentary, large seasonal movements are made within the breeding range, which are thought to be related to fish migrations (2) (5). Large assemblies of birds roam far in search of huge shoals of fish. Once found, some birds settle on the water’s surface and dive for fish from there, whilst others plunge-dive from the air (5).
Very little information currently exists on the breeding behaviour of this bird. The northern population mostly nests during the winter months, while the southern population breeds in summer. Nests are packed close together within the colony, and comprise a circular scrape or depression in the ground with raised edges, concreted with excrement. Close proximity of nests inevitably results in much conflict and ‘bickering’ between neighbours, with returning birds frequently descending upon the wrong nest by accident and being chased off by the rightful owner. The incubation period is unknown, but thought to be around 28 days (5). At some stage of growth, parents leave their chicks in ‘crèches’ while they go out to forage, where they are guarded by a few adult birds from predation by large gulls (Larus spp.) (2) (5). Chicks are fed by partial regurgitation, after aggressively demanding food from their parents. Time to fledging is also unknown, but is probably somewhere around two months. Adult plumage is thought to be attained by the third year, but the age at which first breeding occurs is unknown (5).Top
Socotra cormorant range
This large bird has an extremely restricted range, with two subpopulations now breeding at a total of just nine locations (5). The northern subpopulation breeds on islands off the Arabian Gulf coasts of Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Qatar and possibly the Islamic Republic of Iran (breeding not confirmed since 1972) (2) (5). The much smaller southern population breeds on one or more islands off the Arabian Sea coast of Oman and in the Gulf of Aden off Yemen (2).Top
Socotra cormorant habitat
The Socotra cormorant is an exclusively marine bird, which breeds only on flat-shored desert islands (2).Top
Socotra cormorant status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (3). It is also listed on Annex II of the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) (4).Top
Socotra cormorant threats
The relatively large but extremely restricted population of Socotra cormorants is primarily threatened by the fast pace of coastal development on its breeding islands for residential and tourist use, which is disturbing and displacing many colonies (2) (6). Human disturbance can cause parents to abandon their eggs and chicks, leaving them vulnerable and exposed to wide-scale predation by gulls (2). This bird’s already threatened status is exacerbated by marine oil spills; the Socotra cormorant is probably the most commonly found oiled dead bird around the Bahrain coastline (5). Fisheries also pose a possible threat through reducing the species’ food availability. Additional potential threats include introduced predators on breeding islands, the harvesting of chicks for food, persecution and ectoparasites (2).Top
Socotra cormorant conservation
The Socotra cormorant is legally protected across most of its range. In addition, some breeding sites, such as the colonies on the islands of Marawah and Al Yasat in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, have been specifically protected (2) (7) (8). Nevertheless, the sites of several more colonies desperately require the same protected status (2). In 2004, Dubai Zoo was the first institution in the world to successfully breed this rare bird in captivity. The objective was to release the chicks a year later at a pond in one of the city's parks where they would initially be fed with fish, with the hope that they would later fly towards the nearby Gulf waters to live in the wild (6). If successful, captive breeding and reintroduction programmes may be a viable conservation measure in the future if numbers in the wild should fall too low. Hopefully, however, it will never reach that stage. The Socotra cormorant is undoubtedly one of the treasures of the beautiful desert islands off the Arabian Peninsula, which are home to a rich array of unique wildlife, and as such are surely worthy of international recognition and greater protection (5).Top
Find out more
To learn more about the Socotra cormorant see:
Hill, M. (1995) Cormorant Colony Camp. Arabian Wildlife, 2: 8–10. Available at:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- External parasites such as fleas, lice, ticks etc.
IUCN Red List (August, 2009)
BirdLife International (August, 2009)
Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (May, 2006)
African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) (May, 2006)
Hill, M. (1995) Cormorant Colony Camp. Arabian Wildlife, 2(3): 8 - 10. Available at:
Wheeler, J. (2004) Dubai first to breed at-risk bird. BBC News. (June, 2006)
Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (August, 2009)
Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi (August, 2009)
More »Related species
Play the Team WILD game
This species is featured in:
This species is featured in Jewels of the UAE, which showcases biodiversity found in the United Arab Emirates in association with the Environment Agency – Abu Dhabi.
MyARKive offers the scrapbook feature to signed-up members, allowing you to organize your favourite ARKive images and videos and share them with friends.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Copyright in this website and materials contained on this website (Material) belongs to Wildscreen or its licensors.
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
- download and retain copies of the Material on their personal systems in digital form in low resolution for their own personal use;
- teachers, lecturers and students may incorporate the Material in their educational material (including, but not limited to, their lesson plans, presentations, worksheets and projects) in hard copy and digital format for use within a registered educational establishment, provided that the integrity of the Material is maintained and that copyright ownership and authorship is appropriately acknowledged by the End User.
End Users shall not copy or otherwise extract, alter or manipulate Material other than as permitted in these Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials.
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Certain Material on this website (Licence 4 Material) displays a green flag next to the Material and is available for not-for-profit conservation or educational use. This material may be used by End Users, who are individuals or organisations that are in our opinion not-for-profit, for their not-for-profit conservation or not-for-profit educational purposes. Low resolution, watermarked images may be copied from this website by such End Users for such purposes. If you require high resolution or non-watermarked versions of the Material, please contact Wildscreen with details of your proposed use.
Creative commons material
Certain Material on this website has been licensed to Wildscreen under a Creative Commons Licence. These images are clearly marked with the Creative Commons buttons and may be used by End Users only in the way allowed by the specific Creative Commons Licence under which they have been submitted. Please see http://creativecommons.org for details.
Any other use
Please contact the copyright owners directly (copyright and contact details are shown for each media item) to negotiate terms and conditions for any use of Material other than those expressly permitted above. Please note that many of the contributors to ARKive are commercial operators and may request a fee for such use.
Save as permitted above, no person or organisation is permitted to incorporate any copyright material from this website into any other work or publication in any format (this includes but is not limited to: websites, Apps, CDs, DVDs, intranets, extranets, signage, digital communications or on printed materials for external or other distribution). Use of the Material for promotional, administrative or for-profit purposes is not permitted.