October 29, 2018 11:19:38 AM
Just days before the cold and the rain came we were sitting on the dock feeding the Pekin ducks and the schooling bream. The ducks come at my repeated calling of "pretty bird," and the bream come when they hear footsteps on the dock. We do this daily, like clockwork. While the bream are swarming, a bass or two will cruise by as well. The bream are big; I don't worry much about the bass getting one of the fellows, though there was that one time.
The sky was awash with pinks and blues and wispy white clouds, while the sun was sinking below the tree line. Behind us, Canada geese were foraging. We've had about fifty or so for the past few weeks. They move like soldiers across the field. Whenever a human approaches, they slowly meander in another direction. Should we move too quickly, they take flight to the other side of the lake, but so far they haven't left for good. Sam became a little irritated at the geese eating all the good stuff the deer would be eating. He said, "I'd rather have the deer."
We sipped coffee while watching the ducks, the bream, the bass and the darkening sky when a single solitary bird appeared, circling our lake looking for a landing. "It's a cormorant!" Sam announced -- the bane of Sam's existence and most other serious fishermen.
Sam stood, swinging his arms and hollering at the cormorant. The cormorant appeared undisturbed and landed on a stump in the middle of the lake. "You know they can eat over a pound of fish a day," Sam said. A cormorant can stay under water for two minutes and can dive from 80 feet up. In some locales they are called the "black death."
Cormorants usually gather in groups, many times up to 500 in a flock. We had this one lone little cormorant, and he quickly went his way at Sam's urging. I'm sure Sam would have shot the cormorant on principle but the lowly cormorant is protected. He's protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 which protects all migratory birds from harm unless otherwise permitted by wildlife officials. In fact, the only birds not protected are feral pigeons, European starlings and house sparrows.
The Treaty covers 800 species and includes dead or alive birds, their feathers, their eggs, their nests and pretty much all things bird. It's unlawful to pursue, hunt, take, kill or sell migratory birds without a government issued license or permit.
There are some passive measures you can take, like hollering, waving your arms, some "boom" canons and noisemakers -- though your neighbors may be offended.
There have been studies on the effect of cormorants on fish populations as well as legislation requesting management policies. But out here in our neck of the woods, there was a lone lost cormorant and one serious fisherman using harmless scare tactics, silhouetted in a beautiful sunset on another beautiful day.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.
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