[Tweeters] Red-faced Comorant v. Pelagic ID Problem (explained by Dennis Paulson)

Carol & Lynn Schulz carol.schulz50 at gmail.com
Sat Apr 5 18:36:23 PDT 2014

Hi Tweeters:
A few years ago I reported a "Red-faced Cormorant" at Brown's Point, Tacoma about this time of year. It was not, even though my Pelagic Cormorant had much more red on the face up and over the bill, than what I thought was normal. After I apologized to Tweeters, I was told that a good field mark for Red-faced Cormorant is that it has a LIGHT-COLORED BILL, versus a dark bill for Pelagic. Here is a great msg that Dennis Paulson wrote back in 2011 about the ID problem so many of us have w/ Pelagic/Red-faced ID this time of year when they are in breeding plumage.
Yours, Carol Schulz
Des Moines

From: Dennis Paulson
Sent: Saturday, April 02, 2011 1:53 PM
To: tweeters at u.washington.edu
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] Red-faced Comorants at Alki Point, Seattle

Hello, tweeters.

I'm not sure if all of our birders know how incredibly showy breeding-plumaged Pelagic Cormorants can be. The red face glows at this time of year, they have big white flank patches, and the bill can actually be partially pale, rather than the black on nonbreeding times. When we went to Tongue Point to look for the reported Red-faced, we saw several Pelagics like this, and each one prompted the thought "is that the Red-faced?" until I got a better look at it.

In a Red-faced Cormorant, the red face patch is twice as large, extending above and well behind the eyes as well as conspicuously over the bill base. In full plumage, the bill has not only yellow on the lower mandible but is vivid blue at the base. The red throat skin is also more extensive than in Pelagic, in which you don't usually see any such thing. The paintings in David Sibley's guide are so small that you can't see this kind of detail, and I would do a Google Image Search on both species to see it.

The upperparts of a Red-faced Cormorant are bronzy brown, the wings the same color as the back, while in Pelagic, the predominant color is blue, with some reddish-purple in the scapulars. The backs look very different, and this would be a good thing to see to confirm a Red-faced. This is such a rare species south of its breeding range in the Aleutians, and is considered nonmigratory, that records of it south of Alaska will just about have to be documented by photos.


Dennis Paulson
1724 NE 98 St.
Seattle, WA 98115
dennispaulson at comcast.net

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