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Local cormorant colony is the largest in state | Kitsap Birding

The largest population of Pelagic Cormorants can be found at the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton.                           - Ruth Sullivan / Contributed
The largest population of Pelagic Cormorants can be found at the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton.
— image credit: Ruth Sullivan / Contributed

In fairy tales, scary things often hide under bridges. But in Kitsap County, bridges can harbor unusual wildlife, including peregrine falcons and a unique colony of pelagic cormorants.

A pair of falcons can be seen nesting on the underside of the Agate Passage Bridge. And the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton is home to a unique community of pelagic cormorants, as well as a nesting pair of peregrine falcons.

The steel girders and massive columns of the Warren Avenue Bridge are inaccessible to land-based predators and rain, making them especially attractive to winged wildlife. Of course, the presence of rock pigeons is an added plus for peregrine falcons that pursue them for a living.

Although these nest sites are unreachable without special equipment, they are visible from the water and from vantage points at both ends of these overarching spans.

Most people are familiar with the common Double-crested Cormorants that dive for fish along the country’s fresh and salt water shorelines. But the slender, snake-necked Pelagic Cormorants are found only along the rocky cliffs and saltwater shorelines of the Pacific Coast. The colony that has adopted the underside of the Warren Avenue Bridge is the largest in Washington state.

The Pelagic Cormorant is one of three species of Cormorants found in Kitsap County. Blue-cheeked Brandt’s Cormorants tend to congregate around the Bainbridge Island fish farms, where they look for free meals of farm-raised salmon.

More than 10 years ago, Kitsap Audubon member Ivan Summers discovered this thriving colony under the Warren Avenue Bridge and persuaded Kitsap Audubon to fund the construction of stairs and a hand rail to make Lower Rota Vista Park more accessible. This charming little park at the end of Elizabeth Avenue offers an exceptional vantage point for viewing activity under the bridge. Kitsap Audubon has since funded the design and installation of an interpretive sign that explains the special significance of this viewing site and acknowledges Kitsap Audubon’s debt to the late Ivan Summers.

When the bridge was repainted in 2004, the Washington Department of Transportation headed pleas from Kitsap Audubon members and took special care to avoid disrupting this breeding colony. A wildlife rehabilitation specialist was lowered by crane to rescue an egg from the Peregrine Falcon nest. It was incubated in an active nest in Oregon and released as an adult in the Lower Columbia Gorge on May 13, 2004.

Peregrine Falcons prey on other birds, such as Rock Pigeons. They can plummet from great heights with their wings folded to strike passing birds. They can achieve speeds of 200 miles per hour during these “stoops,” making them the world’s fastest bird.  After striking prey with their rapier-like spurs, the remarkably agile falcon often catches the falling prey in mid-flight before it tumbles to the ground.

The absence of oils in their feathers makes cormorants less buoyant, enabling them to dive deeper in their pursuit of fish.  Because of the lack of oil, however, feathers become saturated and must be dried in the sun.  Cormorants are often seen sunning themselves with wings spread open to dry.

— Contact Gene Bullock at genebullock@comcast.net

 

 

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