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The Great Cormorant is a large black bird, but there is a wide variation in size in the species wide range. Weight is reported from 1.5 kg (3.3 lbs) to 5.3 kg (11.7 lbs), with a typical range from 2.6 to 3.7 kg (5.7-8.2 lbs). Length can vary from 70 to 102 cm (28–40 in) and wingspan from 121 to 160 cm (48–63 in). It has a longish tail and yellow throat-patch. Adults have white thigh patches in the breeding season. In European waters it can be distinguished from the Common Shag by its larger size, heavier build, thicker bill, lack of a crest and plumage without any green tinge. In eastern North America, it is similarly larger and bulkier than Double-crested Cormorant, and the latter species has more yellow on the throat and bill.
It feeds on the sea, in estuaries, and on freshwater lakes and rivers.