A Cormorant in Need of a Helping Hand

During the last week of September, 2019, the area where we live in southwestern Alberta was part of a Winter Storm Advisory from Environment Canada. As the weekend drew near, the forecasts and warnings grew more and more ominous, eventually warning residents to prepare for a “historic storm.” Sure enough, it lived up to the hype, with some locations in our region receiving over 100cm(!) by the time the snow quit falling on Monday.

By Friday evening, biologists and ornithologists in southern Alberta were advising that the storm was causing a fallout, which in simple terms means the migrating birds were coming out of their migration routes to take shelter from the weather. As the storm blew in with ferocity on Friday afternoon, we recognized we would probably be snowed in for quite a while. Surprisingly, however, Josiah and I woke up on Saturday and discovered we were still able to get out of our nearly-1km long driveway and head out in search of birds. Sure enough, we counted a dozen species in the first 2km! We had a destination in mind and were carefully making our way south when something caught our attention. We turned the Jeep around and confirmed our eyes hadn’t been playing tricks on us. There was a beautiful cormorant taking shelter in a roadside ditch beside a farmer’s field.

A female Double-Crested Cormorant looks for shelter during an intense fall snowstorm that drove her off course and rendered her unable to fly. After consulting local wildlife rehabilitation experts, Josiah and his family were able to rescue the bird and sheltered her until the storm passed and she was able to be released back into the wild.

Josiah jumped out to take a few pictures, but within a minute or so we decided something was amiss. In all our time in the wild, we have never seen a cormorant in this kind of environment. We knew she was likely just trying to ride out the storm, but this simply wasn’t the kind of place a cormorant would normally choose.

It’s cold out here! It didn’t take us long to realize something was amiss. While photographing in this area extensively for more than a decade, the amount of times that we’ve seen a cormorant this far from water, on the ground in or near a farmer’s field is zero.

As we looked more closely, we realized she was unable to fly and looked to be struggling in the cold. Knowing the storm was supposed to worsen significantly overnight and the temperatures were forecasted to plummet, I quickly got on the phone to our friends at Alberta Birds of Prey Centre for some advice and perspective. We agreed that it was unlikely she would survive the night in her condition and location. Josiah and I were able to quickly secure her, and we brought her home to wait out the storm in our heated garage.

Our new cormorant friend takes in the view as John keeps her just far enough away to avoid her sometimes-snapping beak. Good thing Josiah got his learner’s license earlier this year!

Most of the highways had been closed by this point, so there was no way to get her to a rehab centre. Melanie and Charis jumped in to welcome our weekend guest, and we consulted with some wildlife rehabilitators to make sure she was properly cared for and as comfortable as possible during her stay with us. Charis quickly decided our lovely patient looked like a Matilda, and the name stuck. By the next morning, Matilda was looking MUCH stronger and full of energy, but the storm had settled in in earnest and we knew it would be best to keep her warm and hydrated until the weather broke.

Monday dawned with more wind and snow, but the forecast promised the end was in sight. Sure enough, by early afternoon the storm had moved east into the prairies, and the sun was out and warming everything up. We wasted no time and quickly prepared Matilda for release back into the wild.

Click here for a video of John and Josiah bringing “Matilda” to the water for release

Josiah and I carried her down to the reservoir in an area where we often see cormorants fishing and sunning themselves, and we sat her crate down beside a couple of large rocks so she could stretch her wings and warm up.

John and Josiah carefully bring a rescued cormorant down to the water for release back into the wild.

No sooner had the lid been lifted when she hopped up onto the nearest rock, got her bearings, jumped down on the shoreline and then took off for the water.

Josiah and Charis Launstein look on as a cormorant they rescued during a severe snowstorm takes flight back into the wild.


Here’s “Matilda” our rescued cormorant making sure that her path to the water is free from danger before flying over to the water for a bath and some fishing.

She immediately bathed herself and then went about fishing before making her way over to a nearby island to dry her feathers before flying off into the now-much-more-hospitable skies.

A rescued cormorant wastes no time upon her release to take a quick bath and enjoy the open water before heading off to hunt for fish.

We waved goodbye and wished her the very best for her journey, grateful we had the opportunity to help her make it through one crazy fall snowstorm!

“Matilda” the Cormorant looking towards a nearby island before heading out to join her kind in the wild.