15 Sep Cormorants Reconsidered: Birds of ill omen get makeover

Source: Macfilos

Cormorant drying wings

Cormorants have had a bad press over the years. Historically they have been portrayed as a symbol of evil and greed, as a dark bird of evil omen, often seen to be harbingers of shipwreck and death. Shakespeare indeed made his own contribution to this negative depiction of cormorants in four of his plays. In the next four hundred years many others have followed suit and, even today, to describe a person as a cormorant is the opposite of a compliment.

As told by Richard J King in his superb natural history “The Devil’s Cormorant”, (University of New Hampshire Press 2013), this darker view of the cormorant was particularly prevalent in the Western world. There was however another side to the picture in China, Japan and some other Eastern countries where the art of cormorant fishing was an honoured part of national life and culture. Junji Yamashita, Japanese master cormorant fisherman, encapsulated this alternative view in his statement: “The cormorant is the bridge between God and man”. However, the Chinese could certainly see both sides of the picture and sometimes colloquially described cormorants as “black devils”.

As King continues: ‘Behold the cormorant: silent, still, cruciform and brooding, flashing, soaring, quick as a snake. Evolution has crafted the only creature on earth that can migrate the length of a continent, dive and hunt deep underwater, perch comfortably on a branch, walk on land, climb up cliff faces, feed on thousands of different species, and live beside both fresh and

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