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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Guanay Cormorant Phalacrocorax bougainvillii

Boldly marked in black and white, with a conspicuous red patch around each eye, the Guanay cormorant nests in huge colonies along the coast of the Atacama Desert, the most arid region on Earth. It feeds on anchovetas—small fish that abound in the cold waters of the Humboldt Current. Like other cormorants, the Guanay cormorant pursues fish underwater, holding its wings against its body and propelling itself with its legs. It floats low down in the water, periodically dipping its head beneath the surface to check for food. Guanay cormorants have nested on the same offshore islands for millennia, depositing deep layers of desiccated droppings known as guano. During El Niño years, when the ocean temperature rises, shortage of food forces Guanay cormorants to forage far afield, often as far north as Panama.

Guanay Cormorants and the Guano Trade

Before the invention of synthetic fertilizers, nitrogen-rich guano was an extremely valuable commodity. Thousands of tons were exported from the South American coast to the Northern Hemisphere. Guano was also used in the manufacture of explosives.

Guanay Cormorantzoom image
  • Order Pelecaniformes
  • Length 29–31 in (74–78 cm)
  • Weight 4–5 lb (1.75–2.25 kg)
  • Habitat Desert coasts, islands, inshore waters
  • Distribution Pacific coast of Peru and northern Chile
Guanay Cormorant habitat mapzoom image