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The Double-crested Cormorant is a large waterbird with a stocky body, long neck, medium-sized tail, webbed feet and a medium sized hooked bill. It has a body length of between 70–90 cm (28–35 in) long, with a wingspan of between 114–123 cm (45–48 in). Double-crested Cormorants weigh between 1.2–2.5 kg (2.6–5.5 pounds) Males and females do not display sexual dimorphism. This species has dark-colored plumage with bare super-loral skin and gular skin that is yellow or orange. An adult in breeding plumage will be mostly black with the back and coverts being a dark grayish towards the center. Nuptial crests, for which the species is named, are either white, black or a mix of the two. These are located just above the eyes with the bare skin on the face of a breeding adult being orange. A non-breeding adult will lack the crests and have more yellowish skin around the face. The bill of the adult is dark-colored. The Double-crested Cormorant is very similar in appearance to the larger Great Cormorant, which has a more restricted distribution in North America, mainly on the Canadian maritime provinces; it can, however, be separated by having more yellow on the throat and the bill. The plumage of juvenile Double-crested Cormorants is more dark grey or brownish. The underparts of a juvenile are lighter than the back with a pale throat and breast that darkens towards the belly. As a bird ages, its plumage will grow darker. The bill of a juvenile will be mostly orange or yellowish.
A very common and widespread species, it winters anywhere that is ice-free along both coasts, as far north as southern Alaska (on the west coast) and southern New England (on the east coast). It can be found as far south as Mexico and the Bahamas. It migrates from the coldest parts of its breeding range, such as eastern Canada, and has occurred in Europe as a very rare vagrant, for example in Great Britain, Ireland, and the Azores.