Frequently Asked Questions (click on underlined links in answers)
where are the majority of Cormorants located in Wisconsin?
Over 80% of the cormorants are bred and located in the Green Bay/Door County area
Where are the Cormorant breeding grounds located?
They are breeding on 5 islands. Located on Cat Island in Green Bay area and Hat, Jack, Spider and Pilot Islands in Door County area. The Islands are overpopulated with birds. Pilot Island alone has well over 8,000 birds amassed between early May and late September each year. See Map
Who owns Pilot Island and what are their plans for the Island?
The United States Government owns Pilot Island and the Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manages it. They have no plans for the Island other than to use it as a migratory bird breeding ground. It is primarily used by cormorants and pelicans. Once an endangered species they have been removed from the list, due to the banning of DDT and federal protection, such as the Migratory Bird Act. See the Cormorants on Pilot Island. It is by far easier and cheaper for the USFWS to leave Pilot Island as is, than it would to preserve, restore, rebuild the historic buildings, the natural environment, clean up the air, land and water pollution and build a safe dock.
What is the significance of Pilot Island?
Local residents are also very concerned and passionate about maintaining and restoring the historical qualities of the island related to fisheries, wildlife and the environment that once existed. The Pilot Island Lighthouse and Keepers quarters were built in 1858. Operated by the Life Saving Service, the tiny Island has a noble history of helping ships safely navigate the treacherous waters of Death’s Door passage... and saving lives when they didn’t. The Lighthouse/Keepers quarters are listed on the Register of National Historic Places #83004279 and is considered a historic treasure. It is one of the few historic lighthouses in the Great Lakes that continues to be used as a navigation aid by the United States Coast Guard. It has remained an active asset since the light was lit in the late 1850's. Pilot Island is the only historic site in Door County that is being used as a cormorant breeding ground.
Where is pilot island located?
Pilot Island is located 3.75 miles South South East (SSE) of Washington Island and almost due South of Detroit Island. It can be seen in the eastern distance from the Washington Island Ferry landing at Northport, WI. See map
What is the current condition of Pilot Island?
Pilot Island is barren and has been devastated by bird feces primarily from cormorants breeding on the Island. Seagulls and pelicans have contributed too. Pilot island was once lush and green, but is no longer. The flora and fauna that once existed on the Island is gone and a heavy coating of white feces remains. The putrid odor is often smelled in Detroit Harbor on Washington Island, which is 3.75 miles Aerial View. The Island is so polluted, that during the summer of 2019 two members of the USFWS roofing crew got sick after two hours on the Island and had to be removed so they could recover. Pilot Island used to be a spawning ground for Perch and Rock Bass, but the fish no longer spawn there. Through the years the Cormorants have eaten most of the fry in the surrounding waters and the bird feces have changed the waters composition so it is no longer favorable for fish.
How big is Pilot Island?
Pilot Island is a small Island, which ranges in size with the water levels. The Island is approximately 3.25 acres.
Does the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) manage the Cormorant population?
Currently USFWS has a goal to reduce the cormorant population by 50% in the Green Bay, Door County area. They have no plans to reduce the cormorant population on Pilot Island. Complete elimination of the more than 8,000 cormorants on Pilot Island would go a long way in helping USFWS achieve their overall goal quickly. The cormorant population is growing and they are now present in every harbor on Washington Island. Approximately 500 nests were destroyed in early Spring of 2019 on Hog Island. They are also present on Rock, St. Martins and Detroit Islands. USFWS released their final decision on Cormorant reductions. Pilot Island and Spider Island were to have no reductions in Cormorant population. The American White Pelican now nests on Pilot Island with the Cormorants.
What Can I do to help save Pilot Island?
You can voice your opinion and request your town board or city council to write USFWS and request they stop breeding cormorants on Pilot Island. You can also write your own letter expressing your concern over the USFWS management of the cormorants. USFWS will not do anything unless they know there is a problem or told the birds are unwanted. Finally, click on the petition tab above and take the time to fill out the petition, so they can be submitted to USFWS to show overwhelming support for a change in the use of Pilot Island. The petition only represents one person, so a petition needs to be filled out by person. Once significant pressure is brought to bear on the USFWS by the public, change will occur. It would be most helpful if every Town and Village in Door County would express their concerns to change the current use of Pilot Island.
What Does a Double crested cormorant look like? Why are they so bad?
Here are pictures of the Double Crested Cormorant. US Fish and Wildlife Services says cormorants are native to the Door County area. That may be true, however their quantities were so small and impact so minor they were unnoticed. Jacob Ellefson (now deceased at 92 in 2019), a commercial fisherman all of his life, can never remember cormorants in the Door County area in his lifetime or his fathers. They have had no presence for over the last 150 years, up until they were protected and encouraged to roost. Nesting cormorants kill most of the foliage and damage the environments where they roost. In Pilot Islands case, they have decimated the Island and polluted the water around it with their feces. They drive most other birds away, except for the herring gulls and pelicans. They are overpopulated in the small space Pilot Island has to offer. In the past an outbreak of New Castle disease, which is deadly to wild fowl and domestic poultry has been documented. New Castle can also be transmitted to humans that come in contact with the feces and can make them sick for 3-4 days. There have also been bouts of the avian flu on Pilot Island. A Cormorant will consume a pound of fish per day. The 8,000 plus birds on Pilot Island consume at least 1,120,000 lbs. (roughly 80 million fish) of fish during their 140 day migratory stay. This consumption has got to have an impact on the commercial and sport fishing industry. Then there is the stench that is carried in the prevailing winds. Travel to Pilot Island and let us know if you feel good about what you see and smell. We would love to hear from you "firstname.lastname@example.org.
How is the water quality surrounding Pilot Island from all of the bird feces generated by the colonial nesting birds?
The water surrounding Pilot Island was tested for E.coli on August 18, 2022 by the University of Wisconsin in Oshkosh (UW-O) Environmental and Innovation Research Center (ERIC) to establish a true water quality baseline for the Island. The findings show the surface water immediately surrounding the Island to be very high in E.coli content. So high in fact, if the Island were open to the public the beaches would be closed immediately. It would be very unhealthy to swim in the waters around Pilot Island. The testing performed was done under "Best Case" conditions, which means no rain in 72 hours or more. Testing is planned for next year, to define "Worst Case" conditions (immediately after a rain) which could produce E.coli conditions 100 times greater than "Best Case" conditions. See water quality test map.