Birds grow up far too quickly at the Gatorland Bird Rookery. This spring, one Double Crested Cormorant made her nest in a tree right next to the third level of the Observation Tower. I was lucky enough to be there the day her eggs hatched, and then I returned week after week to photograph the nest. There were three eggs in the clutch, but only one bird survived to fledge. I named the surviving bird “Lucky”, first because I was lucky enough to see the hatching, and then because he was lucky enough to live.
Mama built her tiny nest and incubated it for weeks.
I checked on the nest early in the day, and just saw Mama sitting. But the word spread throughout the photographers that there were tiny babies in the nest. So I went back up to watch and wait. I was up there for over half an hour, just waiting, then finally I saw Mama move. Out popped a little baby head!
Mama fed her chick a little, then suddenly she got pretty agitated. She kept putting her beak down under her, and I could see gooey stuff down in the nest. Then I caught a glimpse of the little bird that had just emerged from its egg. His eyes were closed and he hadn’t yet opened its mouth, and his butt was still in the egg. Wow! Mama poked Lucky for a few minutes, then tucked him underneath her and went back to sitting.
I wanted to go right back to the Rookery to check on the hatchlings, but I didn’t get the opportunity until the next weekend, five days after they hatched. The babies had already grown a lot. They were begging their mom for food and she kept trying to tuck them under her wing.
I thought the babies were kinda ugly, actually. Their little featherless heads and bodies had a very rough texture to them.
After two weeks, the babies had a bit of fuzz on their bodies, instead of displaying rough leathery skin that reminded me of a turtle’s.
The mother was feeding the babies, and I got a fun shot of Lucky’s mouth stuck in his mother’s throat. It makes you wonder how in the world the feeding process is comfortable, for mother or baby!
One of the three babies took a sad tumble over the side of the nest while I was there. At least the alligators work so quickly that the poor chick probably had no idea what happened.
I was relieved to see the two remaining chicks still in the nest, and they had gotten so big that Mama moved out to give them room.
The first time I went up into the tower, the babies were sound asleep (like mother, like babies!) A little while later, I returned to see the babies begging for their breakfast. I thought the mother was going to feed them, but she just stretched, stepped a little farther from the nest, and went back to sleep. (I guess it’s hard work raising such demanding babies!)
I really liked this baby head close-up. The babies are starting to look more and more like their parents, but their eyes are brown instead of blue.
By Week Four there was only one baby left in the nest. I hope the mother builds a bigger nest next year!
Lucky was bigger and cuter this week. He was begging like crazy for his breakfast, and his mother kept stepping farther away from the nest to get away from him. He started to edge out on the branch to reach her, but it didn’t take long for him to head back to the security of his nest.
According to Mike, Lucky started to branch-hop this week. I watched him flapping his wings a lot, as if trying to figure out the whole flying thing. He was almost as big as his mom. Double Crested Cormorants fledge about 35-40 days after birth, so he won’t be in his nest much longer.
At first I confused Lucky with his mother, since they were about the same size this week. Lucky was branch-hopping, and the tiny nest was vacant. The way I could distinguish Lucky from the mother was to look at the eyes – the mother’s eyes were a deep blue color, and the baby’s eyes were still black.
Want to learn more about nature photography at Gatorland Rookery?
Check out my Gatorland Rookery page with more information about the location, map, website, photography tips, etc. It is archived by date so you can see my images from previous visits. Maybe you'll be inspired for your own trip!
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