The cormorant is a large marine bird with wide distribution-cormorants can be found in every continent and the fossil record shows something very like a cormorant as early as the late Cretaceous, approximately 70 million years ago. The wide modern distribution is thought to be influenced by this early development. Cormorants belong to the family phalacrocoracidae and the genus phalacrocorax. Phalacrocorax is latinized Ancient Greek, from φαλακρός (phalakros) meaning bald and κόραξ (korax) meaning raven. The bald portion of the name is often thought to refer to the white patch on the cheeks of adult Great Cormorants, or the ornamental white head plumes that can be found in Mediterranean cormorants. The word cormorant is thought to derive through contraction from Latin corvus marinus meaning sea raven. Although the cormorant and phalocrocorax both derive from the Ancient Greek word korax, cormorants (and shags) are not related to ravens or crows, despite the resemblance. The word cormorant entered English early-around the 14th century-and scientists kept it in the raven family as late as the 16th century. Some etymologist think that korax was an imitative word, and entered the language onomatopoetically.
Image of a cormorant courtesy Mike Baird, used with permission under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.