Great Cormorant
(Phalacrocorax carbo)


Picture of bird
© Glen Tepke (
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

The Great Cormorant is the largest member of its family. It is widespread in Europe and Asia, with a world population of more than 700,000 pairs. However, in North America, it only breeds in a small region of the eastern seaboard from Maine and Nova Scotia to Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, wintering farther south along the east coast (Hatch et al. 2000). In Europe, it occurs extensively inland, but in North America it is confined to salt water. After persecution in the 19th century reduced the Canadian population to a few thousand birds, the population increased in the 20th century (Milton et al. 1995). Relative to 1970, the population has increased moderately, particularly since the early 2000s. This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Wild Species (Canada)Vulnerable2015 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaModerate IncreaseHighAt an Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada10,000 - 25,000 breeding birds

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population
CanadaVery Low

Conservation and management

Cormorants are not protected under the Migratory Birds Convention Act, so they fall under provincial jurisdiction. Because they are regarded as pests by some fishermen, conflicts have resulted with fisheries over local resources (Ljunggren 2017), and they continue to suffer from persecution. They are also affected by human-induced mortality from entanglement in fishing gear, reduction in food due to commercial fisheries, and marine oil pollution (Milton et al. 1995). Reduction of pollution in marine environments will benefit the species, along with all other marine life. Colonies appear particularly vulnerable to disturbance, especially when mixed with gulls, which can take eggs and chicks before cormorants return to their nests.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Atlantic Northern ForestsAtlantic Northern Forests, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Boreal Softwood ShieldBoreal Softwood Shield, sub-region and priority type: Quebec -- Other
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation
Gulf of St. LawrenceGulf of St. Lawrence, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, PE -- Conservation
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NB -- Conservation
Scotian ShelfScotian Shelf, sub-region and priority type: Atlantic, NS -- Conservation