Double-crested Cormorant Ingests Toxic Fish

February 3, 2022

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is located at and part of the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Located at 1495 Smith Preserve Way in Naples, FL. Open 365 days a year from 8am-8pm. Call 239-262-2273 or see

A double-crested cormorant was among the forty animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a white ibis, a little blue heron, a northern cardinal and a Florida red-bellied turtle.

The double-crested cormorant was found struggling on the beach at Doctor’s Pass. The woman who reported the situation was able to contain the cormorant and bring it to the hospital for assistance. When staff examined the bird it was dull and having difficulty breathing. There was a laceration on the side of the cormorant’s neck. The bird had blood on both sides of its beak and in its mouth due to having a fish stuck in its throat. 

The cormorant was sedated in order to remove the fish. The bird’s neck was bruised, bloody and swollen where the spines on the fish’s dorsal fin had punctured through the esophagus. The fish was removed and identified as a scorpion fish.

Scorpion fish fins carry a toxic venom; the sting causes intense pain and swelling at the site of the sting. 

Von Arx Wildlife Hospital staff veterinarian, Dr. PJ Deitschel, performs surgery to remove a fish stuck in a double-crested cormorant’s neck. The spines on the fish’s dorsal fin punctured through the bird’s esophagus making it impossible for the bird to swallow or regurgitate the fish.

The cormorant made it through surgery, but its prognosis was guarded. The cormorant received antibiotics, pain medications, electrolytes and a vitamin supplement and was placed on oxygen in an animal intensive care unit. A last check on the cormorant at the end of the evening shift showed the bird was standing and appeared to be resting comfortably. 

The following morning the cormorant was alert, but not overly reactive and was perched with its wings spread. Staff moved the cormorant to a slightly larger recovery space while continuing with the established treatment plan. 

The third day the cormorant’s condition deteriorated significantly. When our vet anesthetized the cormorant to examine the wound, it was apparent the damage to the neck tissue and esophagus was too significant. Tissue necrosis was evident; we were not going to be able to save the cormorant. Humane euthanasia was the only available treatment option. 

While the outcome was not what we hoped for, one aspect from this case is incredibly important – the woman who saw the cormorant in distress on the beach took action and minimized the suffering the bird endured. 

In addition, no one on staff had ever seen the effects of a scorpion fish sting on a wild bird, so handling this case provided insight and experience that will help in the future if a similar situation would occur. Staff take something away from each animal they work with; no matter the final disposition, every case provides an opportunity to learn.

Recent Releases

Due to the cold weather the past two weeks, releases were on hold until the long-range forecast was suitable to return animals back to the wild. Releasing animals when temperatures were at record lows would have been negligent.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website to learn about the work done by staff and volunteers at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

If you would like to get involved but can’t make a commitment to a once a week volunteer shift, consider becoming a Critter Courier. Helping transport injured, sick and orphaned wildlife to our facility ensures these animals will get timely, professional care. No matter what, take action; your volunteer time, memberships and donations are vital and help us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 or see