Phalacrocorax carbo (Linnaeus, 1758) CA CORMO 720
Family: Suliformes > Phalacrocoracidae

Cormorant, John Harding

Cormorants were once entirely coastal in habits but we have seen an increasing trend for inland breeding, a behaviour first documented here in the 1950s.

Our population is made up of birds from two different races, one of which – the continental race – is responsible for the colonisation of inland waterbodies. Cormorants make use of regular roosting sites, with some individuals remarkably faithful to these over time.

The expansion inland has brought the Cormorant into conflict with commercial fisheries and anglers, and the presence of these birds has not been welcomed by all.

Exploring the trends for Cormorant

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Cormorant population is changing.

trends explorer


Cormorant identification is often straightforward. The following article may help when identifying Cormorant.

related video

Identifying Cormorant and Shag

A black, reptilian-looking bird swims by low to the water - but is it a Cormorant or a Shag? Cormorants are more familiar and wide-spread, although Shags are more numerous. Let us help you to separate these two similar-looking species of water bird.


Listen to example recordings of the main vocalisations of Cormorant, provided by xeno-canto contributors.

Begging call


Develop your bird ID skills with our training courses

Our interactive online courses are a great way to develop your bird identification skills, whether you're new to the hobby or a competent birder looking to hone your abilities.

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Status and Trends

Population size and trends and patterns of distribution based on BTO surveys and atlases with data collected by BTO volunteers.


This species can be found on the following statutory and conservation listings and schedules.



The Cormorant was almost exclusively a coastal breeder in the UK until 1981, but has since established colonies in many inland areas of eastern and central England (Rehfisch et al. 1999; Newson et al. 2006). Breeding had been recorded at 89 inland sites by 2012, and the inland population had risen to about 2,130 pairs by 2005 and 2,362 pairs in 2012 (Newson et al. 2007, 2013). Inland breeding in England is thought to have been sparked by birds of the continental race sinensis from the Netherlands and Denmark, although many nominate carbo from coastal colonies in Wales and England have contributed to its development.

Breeding numbers and productivity at sample colonies have been monitored annually since 1986 by JNCC's Seabird Monitoring Programme. This annual monitoring, which includes inland and coastal breeders, shows periods of temporary increase which have been followed by declines, and numbers are currently similar to those in 1986 (SMP: click here); these changes are accompanied by a long-term decrease in breeding productivity. There was a 10% increase in the UK population between full surveys in 1985-88 and 1998-2002 (JNCC 2015). Trends during 1986-2005 show decreases in Scotland and in northeast and southwest England, but no trend in Wales, and steep increases inland in England and in regions bordering the northern part of the Irish Sea (Mavor et al. 2008). The winter trend in Britain, comprising British and Irish breeders and continental visitors (Frederikson et al. 2018), showed strong increase from the late 1980s, and was stable between around 2002/03 and 2012/13 before increasing again (WeBS: Frost et al. 2020). Although the species is now green listed, both races that occur in the UK qualify for amber listing, for reasons unconnected with the UK trend.

Exploring the trends for Cormorant

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Cormorant population is changing.

trends explorer


Wintering Cormorants are widely distributed throughout Britain & Ireland, with highest densities along the coasts, particularly around major estuaries, and along major lowland river systems. Breeding colonies are widely distributed, including inland in Ireland and eastern England.

Occupied 10-km squares in UK

European Distribution Map

European Breeding Bird Atlas 2

Breeding Season Habitats


During both winter and the breeding season there have been distribution gains, most often to low-lying inland areas.

Change in occupied 10-km squares in the UK


Cormorants are widely reported and present year-round.

Weekly occurence of Cormorant from BirdTrack
Weekly occurrence patterns (shaded cells) and reporting rates (vertical bars) based on BirdTrack data. Reporting rates give the likelihood of encountering the species each week.


Information about movement and migration based on online bird portals (e.g. BirdTrack), Ringing schemes and tracking studies.

An overview of year-round movements for the whole of Europe can be seen on the EuroBirdPortal viewer.


View a summary of recoveries in the Online Ringing Report.

Foreign locations of birds ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland

Foreign locations of Cormorant ringed or recovered in Britain & Ireland
Encountered in: Winter (Nov-Feb); Spring (Mar-Apr); Summer (May-Jul); Autumn (Aug-Oct)


Lifecycle and body size information about Cormorant, including statistics on nesting, eggs and lifespan based on BTO ringing and nest recording data.


Exploring the trends for Cormorant

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Cormorant population is changing.

trends explorer


View number ringed each year in the Online Ringing Report

Exploring the trends for Cormorant

Our Trends Explorer will also give you the latest insight into how the UK's Cormorant population is changing.

trends explorer


Feather measurements and photos on featherbase


For information in another language (where available) click on a linked name

Gaelic: Sgarbh
Welsh: Mulfran
Catalan: corb marí gros
Czech: kormorán velký
Danish: Skarv
Dutch: Aalscholver
Estonian: kormoran e. karbas
Finnish: merimetso
French: Grand Cormoran
German: Kormoran
Hungarian: kárókatona
Icelandic: Dílaskarfur
Irish: Broigheall
Italian: Cormorano
Latvian: juras krauklis, udenis
Lithuanian: didysis kormoranas
Norwegian: Storskarv
Polish: kormoran (zwyczajny)
Portuguese: corvo-marinho
Slovak: kormorán velký
Slovenian: kormoran
Spanish: Cormorán grande
Swedish: storskarv


Interpretation and scientific publications about Cormorant from BTO scientists.


Causes of change

The drivers of change for this species are unclear.

Further information on causes of change

BBS counts are very largely of immature or other non-breeding birds inland and away from breeding sites and the generally upward, then stable trend adds little to what we know about breeding numbers from the Seabird Monitoring Programme. The population growth has caused increasing conflict with fishing and aquaculture, and led to calls for the population to be controlled. Population models suggest that culling could help stabilise the population in northern Europe, but that this would not necessarily reduce conflict, and action focused on controlling damage rather than on culling would be more cost-effective (Frederiksen et al. 2001). An increase in shooting under licence in the UK since 2004 has had no detectable effect on population trends in the UK (Chamberlain et al. 2013); however the effects of unlicensed shooting are unknown.

Information about conservation actions

This species has declined at coastal colonies but has been increasing at inland colonies where many of the nesting birds are believed to be from the continental race sinensis rather than the British race carbo.

The drivers of these changes and hence potential solutions are unclear, and although the overall population is believed to have experienced recent shallow decreases, ongoing conflicts with angling and aquaculture have occurred, and hence most research relating to this species has not been aimed at conservation of Cormorants but instead has focused on this conflict and on options aimed at managing the economic impacts they cause (Kirby et al. 1996; Behrens et al. 2008). Based on their assessment of the situation in Finland, Nordberg & Salmi (2019) highlight the importance of effective engagement with stakeholders at local levels. Population models in Europe suggest that action focused on controlling damage would be more cost-effective than culling (Frederiksen et al. 2001).


Peer-reviewed papers

Breeding performance and timing of breeding of inland and coastal breeding Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in England and Wales

2005 | Newson S.E., Hughes, B., Hearn, R. & Bregnballe, T.Bird Study

Peer-reviewed papers

Colonisation and range expansion of inland-breeding Cormorants in England

2013 | Newson, S.E., Marchant, J.H., Sellers, R.M., Ekins, G.R., Hearn, R.D. & Burton, N.H.K.British Birds

Following the establishment of a tree-nesting colony of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo at Abberton Reservoir, Essex, in 1981, the inland breeding population in England has increased considerably

Research Reports
Cormorant by John Harding

Definition of Favourable Conservation Status for Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo

2022 | Newson, S. & Austin, G,Natural England Report

Peer-reviewed papers

Licensed control does not reduce local Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo population size in winter

Cormorant control: it's not clear cut

2013 | Chamberlain, D.E., Austin, G.E., Newson, S.E., Johnston, A. & Burton, N.H.K.Journal of Ornithology

The UK Cormorant population has increased in size and range in recent decades, with more birds breeding and wintering inland. This has led to conflicts with some fisheries, so licences have been issued to kill up to 2,000 birds annually since the mid-2000s.  New research by the BTO has examined whether this control has been associated with changes in Cormorant numbers on WeBS sites, particularly on Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated to protect species under the European Birds Directive. The study found no evidence that killing Cormorants one winter affected numbers at local sites the following winter.  Cormorant population growth was associated with higher intensity control, although this does not show whether control has influenced the national population trend, as Cormorants may simply disperse as a result of disturbance. Further work is needed to monitor Cormorants outside WeBS sites and to research their population dynamics and behaviour.  The key questions of whether Cormorant control has the desired effect of reducing predation at fisheries, and how cost effective it is compared to other measures, remain to be answered.

Peer-reviewed papers

Sub-specific differentiation and distribution of Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo in Europe

2004 | Newson, S.E., Hughes, B., Russell, I.C., Ekins, G.R. & Sellers, R.M.Ardea

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