Analysis of Prey Selection by Double-Crested Cormorants: A 15-Year Diet Study in Oneida Lake, New York

  • DeBruyne R
  • Coleman J
  • Jackson J
 et al. 
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Piscivorous birds, in particular cormorants Phalacrocorax spp., have been reported to cause declines in some fish populations in both Europe and North America, but not in others. This difference may be due to prey selection by cormorants that is further dependent on the composition of the fish assemblage present. We present 15years of diet data collected from Oneida Lake, New York, where we have previously documented negative effects of double-crested cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus on two fish populations valued by anglers: Walleye Sander vitreus and Yellow Perch Perca flavescens. The Oneida Lake fish community changed through the study period and this change was reflected in cormorant diet samples. Diet samples were variable based on season and year with Emerald Shiner Notropis atherinoides, Gizzard Shad Dorosoma cepedianum, Lepomis spp., Logperch Percina caprodes, Walleye, and Yellow Perch having the highest overall relative importance. In years when age-0 Gizzard Shad were abundant they dominated double-crested cormorant diets in the fall after the shad reached a length of 45mm. Consumption of Emerald Shiner and Gizzard Shad was positively related to each species' abundance, but no significant correlation between availability and consumption was found for Walleye, White Perch Morone americana, or Yellow Perch. Double-crested cormorants may be displaying prey-switching behavior and selecting for smaller, soft-rayed, prey species. We conclude that variation in fish recruitment influences double-crested cormorant food selection habits and highlight the importance of continued monitoring with changing fish communities to reliably assess potential impacts of cormorants on a fish community over time. Received April 24, 2012; accepted October 31, 2012

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  • Robin L. DeBruyne

  • Jeremy T H Coleman

  • James R. Jackson

  • Lars G. Rudstam

  • Anthony J. VanDeValk

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