Differing Wariness for Approaching Humans among Cormorant Migrants Advancing into Rural or Urban Habitats

Kei'ichiro Iguchi, Hideki Tanaka, Takushi Shinagawa, Tetsuya Tsuruta, Takaharu Natsumeda, Koji Konish, Shin-ichiro Abe


The great cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo hanedae) is one of the largest piscivorous water birds in Japan. It is in the phase of recovery from a long-term decline in the numbers, with its population drastically increasing throughout Japan. This potentially impacts cormorant’s predation conflicts with inland fisheries. Recent cormorant migrants often appear to inhabit more urbanized areas although the species once preferred habitats remote from human activities. This novel dwelling preference remains unexplained. The present study aimed to understand the processes promoting their expansion, especially focusing on those that help acquire foraging success in urban habitats. Measurements on primary production in aquatic ecosystem did not detect superiority of urban habitats over rural ones. This indicates that exploitation of a habitat by cormorants is less explicable by the potential food richness. Our field survey revealed that more urbanized habitats provided more frequent contacts with pedestrians who were indifferent to wildlife, potentially allowing cormorants’ habituation to humans. The degree of tolerance to human-associated disturbances in cormorants was measured using flight-initiation distance (FID) defined as a distance at which an individual animal moves away from an approaching human. Urban cormorants showed shorter FID than those in the rural habitats suggesting that reduced threshold of risk-avoidance against approaching humans could be implicated in the increase in foraging opportunities. Our results suggest that recent urban environments are selectively advantageous for cormorants as new habitats.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5539/jas.v7n11p180

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