December – month of the Pygmy cormorant

Enlisted as endangered species in the Bulgarian Red data book, protected on the territory of the country (Bulgarian biodiversity act) and subject to conservation under the environmental network NATURA 2000, the Pigmy cormorant (Microcarbo pygmaeus) is a species suffering the negative impact by people.
Also known as “the small devil”, the Pigmy cormorant is a middle-sized colonially nesting fish-eating bird. The species is closely connected to different water habitats, usually nesting in mixed colonies along with herons. Nesting, migrating and wintering in Bulgaria, currently the species is year-round in the country.
It forms roosting sites as in Bulgaria it is significant for the wintering world population as well as for the migration of great part of it between the nesting and wintering sites. The number of roosting individuals usually is about 500 - 1 000 to 5 000 and in singular cases more than 10 000. The birds are strictly holding on to roost sites or individual trees and one and the same roost are being used for many years, although they have different numbers each year. During the day the birds hunt on small groups in different ponds on distances up to 60-70 km form the roosting site and during the night the birds get together on high trees or in reeds. They food on fish and the daily food ration per bird is about 200 gr. (Vizi & Vizi 2010).
Due to high density of birds on the roosting site during the winter, they are extremely stressful, threatened by poaching and direct extermination. The species is in extremely unfavorable condition and due to the high density in fisheries where the birds feed in small ponds, where they are easy victim for hunters. Basically, the species is threatened by degradation in the wetlands as a result of draining in agriculture and changes in the hydrological regimes of the wetlands. Another significant threat is pursuit by owners of fisheries. Significant threats are also at hand alike habitat degradation and pursuit on the wintering territories.

In a number of cases the concentration of hundreds of Pigmy cormorants on the roosting sites attracts attention and the birds are disturbed on their nesting colonies or in the hunting sites out of curiosity. In many countries the fishermen take the Pigmy cormorant as a competitor and purposely exterminate the colonies. As a result of direct extermination in the fisheries each winter more than 900 to 1000 birds are being killed, which is 15% to 20 % of the wintering Pigmy cormorants in the region of Maritsa river and Tundzha river.

Very often, the Pigmy cormorants roosting sites are well naturally preserved which is attractive for waterfowl birds, some of them subject to hunting. This is a reason for many hunters to enter the roosting sites and disturb the birds. Similar cases have occurred within Protected site “Pigmy cormorant roosting site” on Maritsa river near Plovdiv.

The pigmy cormorant is enlisted in Annex I of the Bird directive, therefore the species and its habitat are subject to conservation of the Ecological network NATURA 2000. Some of them are Protected area “Srebarna” (BG0000241);  Protected area “Svishtovsko-Belenska nizina” (BG0002083); Protected area Östrov Pozharevo” (BG0000237); Protected area Östrov Ibisha” (BG0002007); Protected area “Complex Belenski ostrovi” (BG0002017); Protected area “Chengene skele” (BG0000242); Protected area “Yazovir Konush” (BG0002015); Protected area “Zlato pole” (BG0002103); Protected area “Varnensko-Belasovsko ezero” (BG0000191); Protected area “Yazovir ovcharitsa” (BG0002023); Protected area “Mandra-Poda” (BG0000271); Protected area “Burgasko ezero” (BG0000273.); Protected area “Komplex Ropotamo” (BG0002041); Protected area “Maritsa-Plovdiv” (BG0002087). Within Protected site “Pigmy cormorant roosting site – Plovdiv” the largest on Maritsa river and within the country, designated in 2006 by proposal of Green Balkans. Under the Protected areas act, within the protected area banned the following activities:
  • Cutting and arson trees;
  • Sand extraction and other inert materials;
  • Hunting;
  • Construction activities, except for hydrotechnical facilities to ensure the conductivities of the river, as well as reconstruction and maintenance of the existing structure.
In this concern, unfortunately, the disturbance, poaching and destruction of the river habitats are a reason for the Pigmy cormorant to very often abandon the roosting sites. For example, in 2001, Green Balkans prepared a proposal to the Ministry of environment and water for designation of 5 protected areas aiming conservation of sites with high density of birds from the species during the winter – four on Maritsa river and one on Tundzha river (Cormorant roosting site in Yambol). Disturbance of the birds became a reason for abandoning of 3 of the roosting sites before the completion of the procedure – near Yambol, Svilengrad and Popovitsa.

Conservation status:

In the IUCN list (International union for conservation of nature) the species is categorized as “Least concern” (BirdLife International 2016). Included in Annex II of the Bonn convention (Convention on the conservation of wild European wildlife and the natural habitats) in Annex II in the Bonn convention (Convention on the conservation of migratory species of wild animals) in Annex I of the Birds Directive. The species is endangered in Bulgaria (Golemanski 2011) enlisted in Annex II and III of Bulgarian Biodiversity Act.

Our work:
  • Elaboration of proposals for designation of protected areas, including habitats of the species;
  • Monitoring of the species – during the wintering the number of birds is being monitored in the established roosting sites, including habitats of the species;
  • Guarding the roosting sites – the so called “guarding” is made by volunteers and aims to prevent disturbance and poaching of birds on the roosting sites. In this way disturbance will be avoided, which is of great significance for their wintering;
  • Designation of new protected areas – the aim is to ensure protection of the roosting sites by the authorities;
  • Maintenance of habitats;
  • Information and educational activities – setting information signs, marking roosting sites, presentations, work with students, fishing and hunting societies and citizens. 
How can I help?
  • Participation in the so-called guarding and monitoring of the roosting sites of Pigmy cormorant (near Plovdiv, etc.);
  • Participation in the middle-winter census of waterfowl;
  • Participation in information activities (presentations in the different regions, distribution of information materials, setting information signs);
  • Participation in other activities for conservation of the species (marking protected areas, etc.). 
Some curious facts:
  • Unlike the rest of the waterfowl birds, the cormorants lack sebaceous gland, which secretion serves as an impregnant for the feathers. That is why we can see them very often drying their feathers with their wings spread;
  • The European population of the species is more than 70 % of the world population.
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Natura 2000