Taken in the all-together, Double-crested Cormorants are a walking, talking, flying contradiction in terms. They have webbed feet like ducks, but they perch in trees like robins. They are water birds, but their feathers are not waterproof. After they dive for fish, they have to hang their wings out to dry. You can often see them with their laundry on the line, as it were: arms outstretched, gently waving their wing feathers to create a breeze in the dank, humid air of a cold Seattle winter. I’ve hung laundry out myself in winter, and I can tell you, neither clothes nor feathers are going to get dry very fast in this climate. You’d think a hundred million years or so of evolution would have created a water bird better suited to the water, but no.

As for their romantically dubbed double crests, we rarely see them here at the Fill. Even if we did, I’m not sure they would add anything to the bird’s gravitas. Probably the opposite, for the crests are not really crests at all. They are outlandish white and black tufts that sprout on the bird’s cheeks in breeding season, kind of like a grandpa whose ears have become excessively hirsute with the passing of the years.

Cormorant with wings outstretched

And yet. Grace Kelly might very well have swooned with envy at the beauty of these birds, whose eyes are the color of jade and whose faintly iridescent black feathers are edged with even deeper black. No one in the bird kingdom wears the “little black dress” more elegantly than do cormorants. As awkward as they appear on land, they are grace itself in the water. They glide along on the surface with their chins up, like runway models dressed in the latest Dior. When they dive, they often give a half-leap up, then nose down as sleek as an arrow with not a single splash. Olympic high-divers should be so skilled.

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