The Beauty in Cormorants

October 16, 2003 By: Marshall Cutchin

My friend Simon Becker — one of the finest guides working, in my opinion — claims to have found something admirable in cormorants. When I dragged him out on a busman’s holiday last spring, he remarked that their eyes are not green, but an iridescent purple. (Of course he had been fishing for many days in a row, and I didn’t feel it appropriate to note my generally contrary sentiments about the bird.) Now Byron Stout claims that the double-crested cormorant has green eyes in his article “Birds Will Pay for Fish Pilfering.” (He also notes that they are extremely clever and will even follow a boat churning up sea grass beds to round up fleeing pinfish; since they’re creatures of habit, it proves just how common this type of idiotic boating is.)
But back to this incredibly important debate. I did extensive research to attempt to validate either Simon’s or Byron’s claim on the eye-color of Phalacrocorax Auritus. I reviewed dozens of photographs, several articles, and a few books and have come to this startling conclusion: cormorant eyes are neither purple nor green, but turquoise. In fact, they may appear greener in winter because the blue ring around the eyelid loses its color.
Out of respect for Simon’s effort to find redemption for the cormorant, I probably won’t mention this when I see him. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, especially if you’ve been guiding for too many days in a row.