Breeding cormorants, Phalacrocorax carbo, in Northern Ireland remain seasonally dependent on a coastal environment where they can be censused with accuracy, but numbers in other habitats and at other times of the year are less certain. This study establishes the long term and regional patterns of abundance at breeding and feeding localities, which might in tum be related to diet. Birds were regularly observed and counted at a variety of feeding sites, and some aspects of their breeding success and fledgling diet evaluated at the largest N.Ireland breeding colony. Numbers of breeding birds increased dramatically over a period of eight years but recently show signs of declining. There is likely to be a dynamic relationship between populations of a tapeworm (Ligula intestinalis L.), the numbers of roach (Rutilus rutilus [L.]) and cormorant populations feeding at Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles. While roach are not a major component in the diet of fledglings, the large numbers of cormorants feeding at the perimeter of L. Neagh suggest that changes in roach populations will affect birds most acutely during or following the winter. We suggest that this might result in a reduction in the proportion of the population volunteering to breed in the subsequent season, but require further data. The longer term effects of one fish species on cormorant populations are unlikely to be critical, since these birds are highly opportunist. In other habitats cormorant numbers are either very stable (estuary) or variable (river) depending on the seasonal and annual availability of their prey. There is no evidence for a systematic seasonal shift in habitat, as suggested by other studies.
|Published (in print/issue) - Apr 1994