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Great Lakes Article:

Cormorants rarely seen in lakes until recent years

January 10, 2002

BY ERIC SHARP
Detroit Free Press

Mostly because of the effects of the pesticide DDT, cormorant numbers fell dramatically throughout their range until the federal government decided to protect them in 1972. But the feds ignored the fact that on the Great Lakes, cormorants are an exotic species that arrived only within the memory of people still living here.

Twenty-five years ago, cormorants were rare enough on the Great Lakes that people would point out the bird if they saw one while they were out fishing.

Today, there are so many cormorants in some places that they have to take a number to find a piling to sit on and dry their wings. They also are showing up in increasing numbers on smaller inland lakes where they were never seen 10 years ago.

Archaeologists have learned from examining Indian rubbish dumps that cormorants weren't common on the Great Lakes in prehistoric times. Indians made use of every part of an animal, including hollow bird bones for whistles, and there's no indication cormorants were used for anything.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says cormorants came to the Great Lakes around World War I, and their numbers increased steadily until they were nearly wiped out by DDT after World War II. Older commercial fishermen say that even before World War II they kept cormorants under control by freeing pigs on the islands where cormorants nested. The pigs' diet included cormorant eggs and baby birds.

Pollution reduced cormorant numbers so much that by 1970 only 89 nests were found in the region. The Fish and Wildlife Service blamed the cormorant decline on "use of the pesticide DDT, killings by humans and the overall declining health of many ecosystems, especially that of the Great Lakes."

But the cormorant decline stemmed almost entirely from DDT and other severe pollution problems. Humans directly killed only a small number of the birds.

By Eric Sharp

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