How to Capture Cormorants and Train Them

 We go out to the sea and catch the cormorants living there, and then train them for fishing.
 Formerly we got wild cormorants at Shino-Jima, Aichi Prefecture, but later they decreased in number, so today we use the cormorants that are captured at the seashore of Ishihama, Ibaragi Prefecture and transport them from there.
There are two ways to capture wild cormorants.
 One way is to lime the rocks at the seashore so that the bird's feet stick to the rock, then use a decoy bird to lure others on to the rock and net them. This method is no good because it is expensive-requires much birdlime; it excites the birds and makes them ill-tempered; and birds of any size, many of which are not needed, come down to the rock, This procedure of catching the birds was being practiced at Shino-Jima. Nowadays, at Ishihama, wild cormorants, lured by a decoy bird, are caught with a lime-stick when they come down on the level ground on the side of the cliff. (Fig. 2)



 Immediately after the wild cormorants are captured, cotton thread is stitched into the skin just under both under-eyelids and then the thread is tied at the top of the head, covering the eyes with the under-eyelids. (Fig. 3, 4)




















 The masters (Master-Cormorant-
Fishermen) let the cormorants bathe in warm water of about 30'C and wipe their bodies with hemp-cloth, thus washing off the filth. Then the masters daub powdered plaster on the whole body of the bird. (Fig, 5)






 When the plaster is dried by the heat of the sun and the body of the bird itself, nasty things, lime or others, fall off with plaster. This procedure is repeated several times. The wild cormorant, wild-tempered at first, gradually comes to be mild-tempered during this process. After the masters are sure that the cormorants have cooled down, the thread binding the eyelids is cut off and the eyes are let open.
 Then from one wing they cut off at the roots eight or nine feathers that are called Kazekiri-Bane (remiges) leaving two or three of them. The feathers of the other side they do not cut. The purpose of this is to prevent the cormorants from keeping their balance during flight, thus disabling them from flying far off. The beaks of cormorants are very sharp, so the masters trim them with knives so that if they are pecked by the birds the wound will not be severe. (Fig. 6)
 Cormorants are usually kept in a bamboo cage called "U-Kago" (cormorant-cage), Four birds are kept in each cage.
 The masters try to keep in close contact with cormorants; for example, they take the cormorants out of the cage and massage their heads or stomachs; so that the birds get accustomed to living with the fishermen. The least expression of the anger on the part of the master quickly effects the feelings of the cormorants so that the master must try to treat the cormorants as tenderly as possible. Everyday, early in the morning, they bind the cormorants with hemp strings around their necks and let them bathe in the river. (Fig, 7)  It takes about two weeks for wild cormorants to get accustomed to fresh water and to living on land with the masters and other people. During this period the cormorants are, as a matter of course, fed with freshwater fish, but the cormorants do not catch fish in the river until they come to adapt themselves to the circumstances. So the master has to train them giving them food by his own hands until the time when the cormorants come to catch fish together with senior fellow-cormorants.
 Each cormorant takes about 750 grains of fish a day, though the amount varies a little with the size of the bird. In this connection, the average weight of a cormorant is around 2.8 kilograms.
 Until the era of Bunka-Bunsei (1804-1830 A.D.), staple-food for cormorants was snapping-turtles to which river-fish were added. Later, in the Edo period, not only in the clan of Owari, but in other clans also the cormorant, fishermen went hunting for snapping-turtles. The snapping-turtles, however, gradually decreased in number, which obliged the cormorant-fishermen to purchase crucian carps, daces, loaches, cat fish, etc. for the cormorants, and at present the snapping turtle has completely given its place over to river fish.
 The younger the wild cormorants are, the sooner they get accustomed to the life with men. This is the reason why the masters prefer young cormorants. Around the winter solstice (December 22 or 23) is the best season to capture wild cormorants. At this time large flocks of cormorants from the Kuriles and Hokkaido come down to the south along the Pacific coast of the Japan Islands; those cormorants are captured at the seashore of Ibaragi Prefecture. About three years is required to train wild cormorants. The trained cormorants are called "Tooshi-U" (passed through cormorants) and are treated thereafter in the same way as senior cormorants, The average life-span of cormorants is 12 to 13 years, but there was an exceptional one that lived as long as 26 years.