Cormorants, Anhingas, and Pelicans

Neotropic Cormorant Phalacrocorax brasilianus
There are no reports or records of Neotropic Cormorant in Duval County, but they do occur in Florida. Observers should be casually aware the species might occur one day, but should be guarded in their optimism and diligent in documenting a suspected “Neotrop”.

Double-crested Cormorant  Phalacrocorax auritus
Double-crested Cormorants are around all year, but are most abundant in the winter where they can be found in retention ponds virtually throughout the county. They are also heavily concentrated around the coast and should be relatively easy to find at Little Talbot Island State Park, Huguenot Memorial Park, or Hanna Park. In summer, they become relatively scarce but can still be found with some effort.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo
There are a handful of reports of Great Cormorant in the county, beginning with one observed on 31 March 1974 by Joyce Williams off Jacksonville Beach (Stevenson, 1974). Bryan Obst reported the next one at Mayport on 30 October and 24 November 1977, which was presumably the same individual (Edscorn, 1978). The third report came from Huguenot Memorial Park on 15 February 1981 (Stevenson, 1981), followed by a specimen collected by Bob Loftin at Mayport on 30 March 1983 (Kale, 1983).

On 8 February 1999 Clark noted one on the south jetties as he was heading out on a pelagic trip aboard the Mayport Princess, and a few years later Bob Richter reported an immature from 24-29 December 2001 and another the following winter on 28 December 2002 from Huguenot (Anderson, 2002 & 2003). Most recently, one was recorded sitting on the old power poles at the western edge of Huguenot Memorial Park’s family beach area on 11 October 2019. I was fortunate enough to see it the next day and managed the photo below; the bird was not reported after the 13th.

Great Cormorant (right). Huguenot Memorial Park. 12 Oct 2019.

I’ll also note that in February and March 2006, one lingered in the Doctors Lake area of nearby Clay County. The collection of these observations over four decades in the region suggest the best time of year to look for Great Cormorant may be February.

Anhinga Anhinga anhinga
In 1943, Grimes noted the “Water Turkey” as being a summer resident, arriving as early as 10 March 1935 and breeding in areas of Dunns Creek, Pablo Creek, and Clearwater Lake (Grimes, 1943, p. 62). Since that time, Anhinga has become a fairly common year-round resident throughout the county. If you’re birding in Jacksonville, you will almost certainly see at least one, especially at places like Westside Industrial Park, Perdue Pond Wildlife Area, Spanish Pond, Hanna Park, or Reddie Point Preserve where they can be found along the pond as soon as you drive onto the property. In recent years, I’ve found them nesting in several places each summer including Eastport Wastelands, Sample Swamp, and the wetlands off New World Avenue.

Since many birding trips in the county involve Talbot Islands, Fort George Island, or Huguenot Memorial Park, you’ll undoubtedly pass right by the Gate gas station at the corner of Heckscher Drive and New Berlin Road. The small pond in front of the Gate, right along the northbound exit ramp of I-295, produces an Anhinga more often than not.

American White Pelican  Pelecanus erythrorhynchos 
Reports of American White Pelican date back to at least 1868 when George Boardman noted them in large numbers throughout the winter (Grimes, 1943, p. 34). They are still an uncommon winter species, but can also be found throughout the summer in smaller numbers – a phenomenon perhaps first noted in 1996 (Paul & Schnapf, 1996). In terms of numbers, Wamer and Pranty (1996) noted a flock of 50 as a “locally high number” on 19 September 1995; it is now not uncommon to see as many as 100 or more in winter.

They seem to favor the marshes of the Timucuan Preserve north of Heckscher Drive and along the Intracoastal Waterway north to Nassau Sound. Look for them on either side of Heckscher Drive at the area of White Shell Bay, particularly at low tide. Other good areas to check for them are along Pumpkin Hill Creek, the fishing dock at Betz-Tiger Point, or Spoonbill Pond at the northern limit of the county on A1A (across from the Big Talbot Island boat ramp).

Brown Pelican  Pelecanus occidentalis
Brown Pelicans are much more abundant than American White Pelicans and can be found along the coast or up the St. Johns River on just about any day of the year. Like cormorants, they tend to thin out in summer months and are fairly abundant by mid-October along the coast. While they are almost obnoxiously gregarious around docks and piers, they can be one of the more skittish species along the jetties at Huguenot Memorial Park. If you attempt to approach loafing gulls in fall or winter there to scope for something like a Franklin’s Gull, be wary of approaching too quickly as the Pelicans will be the first to flush!

Over the last four years (2017-2020), Brown Pelicans have begun nesting in the dunes at Huguenot Memorial Park, and have successfully fledged offspring in good numbers. This is the first known breeding record in the county, and is really worth a little further study and perhaps a paper in the Florida Field Naturalist.

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