home   about   search

biodiversity explorer

the web of life in southern Africa

Phalacrocorax africanus (Reed cormorant)

Rietduiker [Afrikaans]; Ugwidi (generic term for cormorants) [Xhosa]; iPhishamanzi, uLondo [Zulu]; Nkororo (generic term for cormorant) [Kwangali]; Timeletsane-nto [South Sotho]; Afrikaanse dwergaalscholver [Dutch]; Cormoran africain [French]; Riedscharbe [German]; Corvo-marinho-africano [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Ciconiiformes > Family: Phalacrocoracidae

Phalacrocorax africanus (Reed cormorant)
Reed cormorant, Strandfontein Sewage Works, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ]
Phalacrocorax africanus (Reed cormorant) Phalacrocorax africanus (Reed cormorant)
Reed cormorant, Plettenberg Bay, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ] Reed Cormorant, Rondevlei Nature Reserve, Western Cape, South Africa. [photo Duncan Robertson ]

Distribution and habitat

Occurs across much of sub-Saharan Africa; in southern Africa, it is common in Zimbabwe, northern and eastern Botswana, patches of Namibia, Mozambique and much of South Africa, largely excluding the arid Kalahari. It can occupy almost any freshwater habitat, excluding very fast-flowing streams, but it generally prefers bodies of water with gently sloping shores.

Distribution of Reed cormorant in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

Movements and migrations

Resident and partially migratory, generally moving to coastal areas in winter and inland waters in summer.


It mainly eats fish and frogs, hunting by pursuing them through the water using its large webbed feet. Its mainly forages in water under two metres in depth, staying underwater for up to about 43 seconds. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

Phalacrocorax africanus (Reed cormorant)
Reed cormorant with a platanna Xenopus laevis in its mouth. [photo Johan van Rensburg ]
  • Vertebrates
    • fish
      • Orechromis mossambicus (Mozambique tilapia)
      • Solea bleekeri (Blackhand sole)
      • Acanthopagrus berda (Riverbream)
      • Barbus anoplus (Chubbyhead barb)
      • Micropterus salmoides (Largemouth bass)
      • Xenopus laevis (Common platanna)
      • Rana angolensis (Common river frog)
      • Cacosternu boetgeri (Common caco)
      • Cyprinus carpio (Carp)
      • Labeo umbratus (Moggel)
    • frogs
      • Xenopus laevis (Common platanna)
      • Rana angolensis (Common river frog)
      • Cacosternum boetgeri (Common caco)
    • small birds
  • Invertebrates
    • insects
    • molluscs
    • Potomonautes warreni (Warren's crab)


  • Monogamous and usually colonial, joining other waterbirds such as Cattle egrets, African darters and Grey and Black-headed herons in colonies of 10-50 breeding pairs. The male selects the nest site and promptly displays to passing females by thrusting its head back and forwards while flapping its wings.
  • The nest (see image below) is built by both sexes in about a week, consisting of a messy platform of sticks and dead reeds, with a cup in the centre which is lined with grass. It is typically placed in the fork of a tree over water, or in a large reedbed or even on the ground.
Reed cormorant at its nest, Nylsvley, South Africa. [photo Warwick Tarboton ]  
  • Egg-laying season is year-round, peaking from August-October in the Western Cape and from October-January elsewhere.
  • It lays 1-6, usually 3-4 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 23-24 days.
  • The chicks are fed by both parents, leaving the nest after about three weeks. They become fully independent about four weeks after fledging.


Not threatened, in fact it has greatly benefited from dam construction.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.