Scientific name: (Phalacrocorax pygmeus*)
Length: 45-55 cm
Wingspan: 75-90 cm
As its name indicates it is a small cormorant (the smallest), not much bigger than a Great Crested Grebe, with a relatively long tail and a short narrow beak.
During the breeding season the head and neck are brown and the body is black with shades of green. Small white feathers on the body give it a spotted look.
Outside of the breeding season, the spots disappear and a white mark under the throat appears. The young are dark brown with white throat and white on part of the neck.
The Pygmy Cormorant prefers freshwater environments such as river bends or marshes. Near the coast it is most easily seen at the mouth of rivers.
It mainly feeds on fish and large aquatic invertebrates.
Colonial-nesting animal which nest in small woods surrounding by reeds where it constructs a basic nest between bushes and low dense trees.
The Pygmy Cormorant (Phalacrocorax pygmeus*) is considered globally threatened by Collar et al. (1994) and is included in Annex I of the EEC Directive 79/409.
There are currently 118-128 pairs breeding in Italy (Brichetti P Fracasso G., 2003 Ornitologia italiana vol 1 ). The species has been breeding since 2006, currently (2009) 7 breeding pairs have been recorded in the heronry.
This is a species which is considered vulnerable at the European level (Tucker & Heath 1994); it prefers living in large marshes characterized by relatively shallow water, alternating with open water, channels and other similar ecotone situations. It feeds on amphibians and little fish. It nests on trees (Cramp S & Simmons K. EL eds, 1977).
The LIFE+ project for the Pygmy Cormorant
The opening of ponds in the marsh as foreseen by the LIFE+ project (action C2) together with the creation of islands (action C3) will bring the greatest benefits by increasing the environmental suitability of the marsh for this species. The sites where these actions will be carried out are currently characterized by uniform reed beds which have filled in the ponds which used to be there. This situation means that large areas of the marsh cannot be used for trophic purposes, for stopping over or for reproducing. The creation of 10 hectares of ponds and channels in this wetlands covered by vegetation is a local response to the degradation of the habitat which is currently underway in the wetlands and is one of the most critical threats (A.J.Crivelli, T.Nazirides, H.Jerrentrup - Action Plan for the Pygmy Cormorant in Europe). With the current conditions the species does not have the possibility to use the Valle Alta and Valle di Mezzo areas except in small pools which have not yet been invaded by vegetation: in these two areas small fish, which are the preferred prey of the species, are abundant. These are areas which are extremely suitable for the reproduction of fish, whose young are a favoured food source for the species.
The depth of the restored ponds (max 200cm) and the channels ( max 150 cm) will be that preferred by the species for feeding (A.J.Crivelli, T.Nazirides, H.Jerrentrup - Action plan for the Pygmy Cormorant in Europe - page 6).
The increase in suitable habitats will also make the project area more attractive for the species during migration and overwintering, bringing about the stopping over of a greater number of individuals. In addition, the creation of the ponds will increase the circulation of water, considerably reducing the summer risk of anoxia in the marsh. Anoxia is due to the lack of oxygenation caused by a reduction in water circulation due to filling in caused by the growth of the reed beds (threat 3).
The actions proposed respond to the requests in point 2.3.2 (Promote appropriate management of wetlands important for the Pygmy Cormorant) of the international management plan for the species (A.J.Crivelli, T.Nazirides, H.Jerrentrup - Action plan for the Pygmy Cormorant in Europe - page 7).
The LIFE+ Nature and Biodiversity 2007 project –“Conservation activities for priority avifauna in the Lago Salso Oasis” is structured according to 4 series of actions:
1 Preparatory actions
2 Concrete conservation actions
3 Awareness raising and communication actions
4 Monitoring actions