Brandt's Cormorant (Phalacrocorax penicillatus) breeding effort, phenology and success were studied in 1997-2001 at three colonies spanning approximately 200 km of the central California coast: Point Reyes (PR); Devil's Slide Rock and Mainland (DS); and Castle-Hurricane Colony Complex (CH). Breeding effort was reduced at all three colonies in the 1998 El Niño event. Mean clutch initiation dates differed significantly among colonies, with cormorants at the southernmost colony (CH) laying earliest, and those at the northernmost colony (PR) laying latest. Productivity at individual colonies varied greatly among years (range 0.7-2.5 fledglings per pair). Overall colony means were lowest (1.6 fledglings/pair) during the 1998 El Niño event and highest (2.5 fledglings/pair) in the 1999 La Niña event. Productivity at CH (1.7 fledglings/pair) was significantly lower than at PR (2.2 fledglings/pair), and interannual variation was greatest at CH. Late-nesting birds laid fewer eggs, hatched fewer chicks, and fledged fewer chicks per pair than early-nesters. The rapid rate of growth at some nearshore colonies in central California suggests immigration from elsewhere, most likely the large offshore colony at the South Farallon Islands. Variation in timing of breeding and reproductive success among colonies demonstrates a value in maintaining multiple study locations when assessing Brandt's Cormorant population parameters in the California Current System.
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Vol. 31 • No. 4