Mahendiran, M. & Urfi, A.J. Hydrobiologia (2010) 638: 21. doi:10.1007/s10750-009-0002-8
Cormorants, described as ‘foot-propelled pursuit divers’, constitute an important component of aquatic food webs and exhibit unique foraging behaviour patterns, which can be properly understood through a comparative study. Since, after a foraging dive they surface to ingest the prey, the intensity of kleptoparasitic attacks on the surface can have a major impact upon the net energetic gain for each individual. Inspite of the fact that cormorants and their habitats are severely threatened in India, their foraging behaviour has not been adequately studied. Such considerations prompted us to undertake field studies on three sympatric cormorants (Phalacrocorax spp.) at 60 different sites in the Delhi region of North India, during 2004–2007. By means of video photography, some key foraging parameters including group size, prey size and patterns of kleptoparasitic attacks were quantified. Along a loose body size gradient, we observed significant differences among the three species with respect to not only their preference for wetland size but also prey size. The frequency of a kleptoparasitic attacks depended upon the group size and foraging behaviour of each species. It was observed that several foraging bouts were abruptly terminated due to human disturbances, mostly at sites lying outside the protected areas. This observation points towards the need to conserve small waterbodies in the countryside, currently threatened by pollution and urbanization, for the benefit of a variety of waterbirds including cormorants.