​December - Month of the Pygmy Cormorant

Also known as the little devil, the Pygmy Cormorant is a medium-sized colonial-nesting fish-eating bird. The species is closely related to various water reservoirs, nesting usually in mixed colonies with herons. In our country it is a nesting, migrating and wintering species, and currently can be observed all year round. The European population of the species represents over 70% of the world's population.

In winter it forms roosts and Bulgaria is important both for the wintering population, as well as as a key resting place for a significant part of the birds between their nesting and wintering sites. The number of roosting individuals varies from 500-1,000 to about 5,000, with some cases of up to 10,000 specimens. The birds are very conservative in terms of roosting sites, including the specific trees, and the same roosts can be used for many years in the absence of disturbance, although the number of individuals may vary. During the day, the birds feed in small groups on various water bodies, moving up to 60-70 km from the roosting site, and gather on tall trees or among reeds for the night. The species feeds on fish, and the daily ration of an individual is about 200 g (Vizi & Vizi 2010).

Listed as endangered in the Red Book of the Republic of Bulgaria, protected throughout the country (BDA) and protected by the ecological network NATURA 2000, the Pygmy Cormorant (Microcarbo pygmaeus) is a species suffering from the negative attitude of people due to the misconception that it eats pounds of fish and harms fisheries.

Due to the concentration of a large number of birds in one place during winter, they are extremely vulnerable to disturbance, persecution and direct destruction. The species is also extremely disadvantaged due to its concentration in fish farms, where birds feed in small pools with stocking material, being an easy target for shooting.

In many cases, the accumulation of hundreds or thousands of Pygmy Cormorants at night attracts attention and the birds are disturbed in the nesting colonies, as well as hunting grounds out of curiosity or for cognitive purposes. In many countries, fishermen view the Pygmy Cormorant as a competitor and deliberately destroy the colonies. As a result of direct persecution in fish farms, somewhere between 900 to 1000 birds are killed every winter, which represents 15% to 20% of the wintering individuals in the area of the Maritsa and Tundzha rivers.

Unlike other waterfowl species, cormorants lack a uropygial gland, whose secretion serves to impregnate feathers. That is why they can be often observed with outstretched wings, drying themselves;

The Pygmy Cormorant is included in Annex I of the Birds Directive, therefore the species and its habitats are subject to protection in the ecological network NATURA 2000. Some of them are: "Srebarna" SPA (BG0000241); “Svishtovsko - Belenska Nizina” SPA (BG0002083); “Ostrov Pozharevo” SPA (BG0000237); “Ostrov Ibisha” SPA (BG0002007); “Kompleks Belenski ostrovi” SPA (BG0002017); “Zaliv Chengene skele” SPA (BG0000242); “Yazovir Konush” SPA (BG0002015); “Zlato pole” SPA (BG0002103); “Varnensko-Beloslavsko ezero” SPA (BG0000191); “Yazovir Ovcharitsa” SPA (BG0002023); “Mandra – Poda” SPA (BG0000271); “Burgasko ezero” SPA (BG0000273); “Kompleks Ropotamo” SPA (BG0002041); “Maritsa – Plovdiv” SPA (BG0002087). The "Pygmy Cormorant wintering site - Plovdiv" protected area - the largest along the Maritsa River and in the interior of the country, announced in 2006 at the Green Balkans suggestion is also included in the SPA. According to the Protected Areas Act, the following activities are prohibited in the boundaries of the protected area:
• felling and burning of trees;
• extraction of sand and other materials;
• hunting
• construction, with the exception of hydro-technical facilities to ensure the conductivity of the river, as well as repair and maintenance of the existing structure.

Our job:
• development of proposals for the declaration of protected areas, including habitats of the species;
• monitoring of the species - during winter the number of birds in the known roosts in the interior of the country is monitored;
• protection of the roosts - the so-called protection is provided by volunteers and aims to prevent disturbance and poaching of birds in their roosting sites. This ensures their rest, which is of great importance for the successful wintering;
• declaration of new protected areas - the aim is to ensure institutional protection in the roosting sites;
• habitat maintenance;
• information and educational activities - placing signs, marking roosts, conducting presentations, work with students, hunting and fishing parties and citizens.

How can I help?
• You can take part in the so-called protection and observations of the Pygmy Cormorant roosting sites (near Plovdiv, etc.);
• Take part in the mid-winter censuses of waterfowl;
• Participate in the information activities (local presentations, distribution of information materials, placing signs);
• Participate in other activities for the protection of the species (such as marking of protected areas, etc.).
Aneliya Pavlova - Coordinator
phone number: +359899269576; e-mail: apavlova@greenbalkans.org

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