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Anhinga vs Cormorant: Differences

anhingo vs cormorant

Sometimes it can be hard to tell two different species of bird apart. Two such birds are the anhinga and cormorant. I will compare both birds’ appearances and other behaviour. Once you have finished reading this article, you will easily identify both birds when you are out bird-watching.

Anhinga vs Cormorant

The easiest way to identify between the two

The quickest way to tell them apart is from their differently-shaped beaks, necks and tails. The anhinga has a straight thin bill, while the cormorant has a hooked bill. The anhinga has a long and more slender neck than the cormorant. The neck resembles a snake, giving it the nickname “snake bird”. They also have the nickname “water turkey” for their turkey-like tail, which is longer than the cormorants.

anhinga bill
Anhinga Bill
cormorant bill
Cormorant Bill

Plumage Differences

female anhingo
Female Anhingo

Male and female anhingas are easy to tell apart. The male’s feathers are dark grey to black with white spots on their wings. In contrast, females have golden brown necks and heads. A cormorant’s plumage is dark brown to black, with a yellow patch at the base of its beak.

Feeding on fish

The anhinga spears the side of its fish with its knife-like bill. They then come on land and work the fish off their beak before swallowing it. Cormorants dive down and grab fish with their hooked bill and swim to the surface to eat the fish whole.

Swimming and posing like a pro

Unlike most other water birds, the anhinga and cormorant produce less oil to waterproof their feathers. This allows them to dive more easily as less air gets trapped amongst their feathers. So after every swimming session, they can be seen standing on the shore or branch with their wings outstretched and drying.

anhinga drying its wings
Male anhinga drying its wings.

You can see why the anhinga gets its nickname “snake bird” when swimming. Only their neck and head show, giving the illusion of a snake swimming. Cormorants, on the other hand, float on the water’s surface and then dive down like a duck to find fish.

Anhinga vs Cormorant: Facts Summary

Body BuildSleek bodyMore robust than the anhinga
Bill ShapeStraight thin billHooked bill
Tail DifferenceLong tailShort tail
Neck DifferenceLong neckShort neck
Main Habitatfreshwatercoastal waters
Egg Clutch2 – 5 eggs3 – 4 eggs
MigrationShort distance Medium distance