The Cormorants Under the Bridge
THE CORMORANTS UNDER THE BRIDGE
Every spring a wildlife spectacle takes center stage in the small seaside community of Astoria, Oregon. Tens of thousands of double-crested cormorants converge to feast upon annual salmon runs and raise their young, but they do it nestled in the trusses of the famed Astoria-Megler Bridge in the middle of downtown. The phenomenon is a relatively new one. Until recently, nearby East Sand Island at the mouth of the Columbia River had been home to the largest nesting colony of double-crested cormorants in North America. Cormorants are master fishers, and fears over their appetite for endangered salmon put them in the crosshairs with commercial fisheries. A culling campaign enacted in 2016 killed thousands of cormorants and caused the colony to collapse. The remaining cormorants fled the island, only to take up residence on the bridge. In 2020, upwards of 11,000 cormorants nested there, pooping on the recently refurbished structure, flying into cars, and eating more salmon than ever. The story unfolding in Astoria is indicative of how cormorants are often treated around the world, with disgust and a gun. But cormorants are highly social, intelligent birds, expertly adapted to life in the air, on land, and beneath the sea in both urban and wild environments. This story explores what it’s like for one community to share life with the cormorants under the bridge, as they challenge us to find new ways to coexist.