Pygmy cormorant

Phalacrocorax pygmeus Pallas, 1773

General distribution (range). Range overlap central-southern part of the Palaearctic region: Balkan Peninsula, lands located west and north from the Black Sea, Caspian Sea and Aral Sea area, Asia Minor, Middle East. About 75% of the pygmy cormorant area is located in Europe. The northern limit of the range is located on the 23 °C isotherm of July. Sedentary or sedentary-migratory species.

Distribution in Romania (range). Based on the studies of Dombrowski (1912) and other ornithologist, at the end of the 19th Century the pygmy cormorant was nesting in colonies of hundreds and thousands individuals, in the Delta and the Lower Danube floodplain, including Balta Brailei and Balta Ialomiţei islands, Vederoasa Lake (Aliman Town, Constanţa County), and also some ponds in Muntenia; total numbers outside the delta was exceeding 10 000 pairs. Catuneanu (1978) describes the temporal decreasing of the range and numbers of pygmy cormorant in Romania up to 1976. Today, the pygmy cormorant reproduces mainly in the Danube Delta, but also in some other areas from the large rivers floodplains: Danube – near Parches (Tulcea County), Dunareni (Marleanu, Constanta County), Braila Small Island, Calinovat Island (Caras Severin County); Prut – Vladesti (Galati County) and possibly on the lakes from Mata – Carja – Radeanu – Vadeni (Galati and Vaslui Counties); Jijia – Larga Jijia (Iasi County); occasional nesting – in Banat Region between Satchinez and Biled, possibly in the Macedonia forest. It is possible that they are nesting on Bugeac Lake (Constanta County), on the Hergheliei swamp (near Mangalia), on other islands or in the Lower Sector of Danube upstream of Calarasi, where the pygmy cormorant is frequently noticed during the reproduction period.

In Europe. The European population reaches 27000 – 37000 nesting pairs, 2/3 of them being present in Romania and Azerbaijan. Positive trends of the population are registered Serbia, Montenegro and Romania, so the European population is not actually threatened. Thus, in 2004, the pygmy cormorant was transferred to BirdLife International from the category „threatened on global scale” (SPEC 2), In the SPEC 1 category (safe).

Habitat. Lakes and extended ponds, with abundant vegetation but also trees (willow-trees) as locations for nests. It feeds on relatively wide waters, in the last years frequently on abandoned fisheries ponds in the delta. In the winter, the pygmy cormorants also stay on reservoirs lock.

Biology. Summer guest (months IV-X). It nests in mixed colonies with great cormorant, herons, egrets and (eventually) glossy ibis. The nests are built in willow-trees, rarely in reed. The 4-6 eggs are laid in May or beginning of June. The incubation lasts 28 days. The juveniles food consists in small fish and other aquatic animals (Kiss and Rekasi, 2002)

In the last two decades, it was noticed that less and less pygmy cormorants spend the winter in Romania, not only in Dobrogea – delta, lagoons, seaside – but also interior water bodies, especially the reservoirs (e.g. Olt River, upstream of Rm. Valcea); on the Danube, in the project area; occasionally in small groups they appear even in Transylvania. It is possible to say that an extension of the pygmy cormorant range during the winter.

It is also important to notice that during the summer months immature non-nesting birds stay on the lakes around Bucharest, on the Danube upstream of Calarasi, on the reservoirs on the lower sector of Olt River up to Proieni (even mountain areas) on the Iron Gates reservoir. Birds ringed in Balta Brailei Island have been recaptured in Greece and former Yugoslavia.

Limitative factors. Several factors have been determined to be responsible for the pygmy cormorants populations decline in Romania in the past. Swamps and marshes reclamation on the lower sector of the Danube; (mainly Balta Ialomitei and Balta Brailei Islands); transformation of some natural water bodies in fisheries; destruction campaigns of the fish-eating birds in the ’50-’60 (enforced by the state with the aim of “saving” the fish resources); illegal destruction of nests by professional fishermen, even after the end of the “official campaigns of combating”; shooting of birds feeding in fisheries; drowned birds caught in fishermen submerged tools (quite frequent also in the last years); bioaccumulation of heavy metals and pesticides by birds (DDE determines eggshell thinning and an increased risk to break during hatching).

The recovery of pygmy cormorant nesting population in Romania from the last two decades is caused by both 1) the level of protection that the avian fauna benefits of (mainly in the Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation) and 2) a general positive trend for the species in its entire range.

Protection. The pygmy cormorant is protected by the Law 13/1993 (Bern Convention, Annex II), Law 13/1998 (Bonn Convention, Annex II), Law 89/2000 (AEWA- Annex 2). Law 407/2006 and 197/2007 – Hunting Law (Annex 2 – hunting is banned), Birds Directive 79/409/EEC, OUG 57/2007 regarding the protected areas regime, conservation of natural habitats, flora and wildlife (Annex 3).

As protection measures to be implemented: colonies protection (elimination of any activities within and in the neighborhood); habitats restoration in order to attract pygmy cormorants to nest (willow-trees planting together with maintenance  of the existing ones); management of the areas in which the birds from the colonies feed, mainly in what regards the maintenance of a minimum level of water, in order to support and enrich the food resources; elimination of submerged fishing tools early in the morning (prior to the start of cormorants activity).

IUCN Status. Vulnerable species

Birds Directive. Priority species