I’m frequently asked the identity of the big, black bird with a long neck that flies in loose flocks along the Yakima River or seen perched high in leafless trees.

In some parts of the world, particularly in areas where lifestyles are dependent on thriving fish populations, no one has to ask. People there already know about the cormorant.

The cormorant’s appearance alone can be arresting — dark and sinister-looking, almost reptilian in its malleable sleekness. Its voracious appetite for fish, though, is what has gotten it in trouble with humankind, especially in fishing communities.

Cormorants have been called everything from “crows of the sea” to “the Black Death,” and large numbers of them have been killed in the past, and even now, in the name of protecting fish populations. According to Natural History Magazine, the number of cormorants killed each year in North America is about 40,000, roughly 2 percent of their population on the continent.

The double-crested cormorant is one of three species of this clan in Washington and the only fresh-water species of the three. A rare bird in the Yakima area as recently as a decade ago, it has steadily increased and is now regularly noted along the Yakima River, or at favored freeway ponds such as those in Selah or those between Wapato and Zillah.

How to spot one: The double-crested cormorant is an easy bird to identify along the Yakima River or around lakes and freeway ponds. Look for a big black bird, as large as a red-tailed hawk, with a long neck and orange throat pouch. Young birds are dark brown above with a whitish undersides.

What’s in a name: The “double-crests” are tufts of feathers on the top of the cormorant’s head that are present only during the nesting season. Another adornment in the nesting season are beautiful, wispy white plumes. Amazingly, cormorant feathers lack the waterproofing characteristic possessed by many water birds, so the bird is often seen perched high in bare trees with its wings spread wide open to dry its feathers.

Chow time: The meal of choice is primarily small to medium-sized fish caught in a chase underwater, in which the cormorant is propelled by its feet. It has an uncanny ability to swim and maneuver underwater, even diving to a depth of 100 feet and staying underwater for minutes at a time.

The cormorant has a throat pouch that expands to hold fish, just like pelicans. Indeed, cormorants are in the same order of birds as pelicans (Pelicaniformes).

Social life: This is a social species, often seen in large numbers and nesting in colonies.

The biggest colony in Washington, with 500 pairs or so, is in a tall grove of willows alongside Potholes Reservoir. A small colony may be established in dense willows on Toppenish Creek near Lateral C, and also at the Selah Ponds.

Family time: A cormorant pair’s nest, built by the female with sticks and debris brought by the male, is typically a shabby mass of sticks and debris. She lays three to four eggs and are incubated by both sexes for 25 to 33 days. Both parents feed the young. The young may wander about the colony before they fly, but always return to the nest at chow time. They first fly at about five to six weeks.

What you may not know: In south-east Asia, cormorants have been trained by — or, at least, are used by — fisher folk to catch fish that the humans, not the birds, will get to enjoy.

The bird’s neck is constricted with a loose noose and long tether. The cormorant is allowed to swim about searching for fish. When the bird surfaces with a fish, the noose prevents the fish from going too far down its neck. The fish is then pulled from the cormorant’s gullet. (Ouch.)

Wildlife Moment, focusing on native wildlife, typically runs in Outdoors on the first Tuesday of every month, with the cooperation of the Yakima Valley Audubon Society.