Strolling along the beach on Longboat Key this afternoon, my wife and I encountered a double-crested cormorant that had become stuck in the dry, mounded sand just above the tide line. As we approached his struggles intensified and he managed to lunge toward the surf, eventually swimming to safety.
To our surprise, he came ashore once again (about fifty yards up the coast). This time he stopped on the hard, wave-swept portion of the beach, his wings spread to dry in the late afternoon sun. Clearly, his previous landing had been too far from the surf (perhaps aggravated by a rogue wave) and his attempt to rest and dry his plumage had almost been fatal.
Designed to dive for fish, cormorants have short legs set far back on their torso; they can hop a bit but are not able to walk. In addition, their plumage has a low oil content (to make them less buoyant and better able to dive); as a result, they must perch on rocks, channel markers or other firm surfaces to dry their soaked feathers and prevent hypothermia. Both traits and a bit of bad luck converged to threaten the cormorant today.