Many of the studies on Flightless cormorant have been conducted by the ornithologist M. P. Harris, who in 1974 published the complete population census. In 2004 about 1500 specimens survived and in 2013 an estimated 2080, it is considered as one of the rarest bird species in the world.
Since 2011 the IUCN has classified it as a vulnerable species and previously it was classified as endangered, the improvement is due to the stabilization of the population. In an article that appeared in the journal Animal Kingdom, New York Zoological Society, in 1978, H.
Harrison suggested the idea that the flying cormorant may have been an inspiration to Lewis Carroll for his Alice in Wonderland. Flightless cormorant's range is restricted to the coastal areas of the Fernandina and Isabela islands in the Galápagos archipelago.
It is unable to fly due to a mutation, which took place over 2 million years, of the Cux1 gene, which if mutated, alters the cells that promote bone growth. It feeds on shrimp, octopus, fish. During the mating season, courtship begins with a kind of aquatic dance.
The population has undergone severe fluctuations; in 1983 an El Niño-Southern Oscillation event resulted in a 50% reduction of the population to just 400 individuals. The population recovered quickly, however, and was estimated to number 900 individuals by 1999.
Flightless cormorants are extremely sedentary, remaining most or all of their lives, and breeding, on local stretches of coast-line several hundred metres long. This species inhabits the rocky shores of the volcanic islands on which it occurs.
It forages in shallow coastal waters, including bays and straits. Fishing with nets poses a current threat to the species; this not only reduces the availability of the cormorant's food, but also often results in birds becoming caught in the nets and killed.
In the past, introduced feral dogs were a great threat to the species on Isabela, but they have since been eradicated from the island. Future introduction of rats or cats to Fernandina is a huge potential threat to the species.
In 2009, BirdLife International set the number of individuals of the flightless cormorant at only 900 individuals, although a more recent estimate in 2011 was 1679 individuals. It was formerly classified as Endangered by the IUCN, but recent research shows that it is not as rare as previously believed and that its population has stabilized.
Consequently, it was downlisted to Vulnerable in 2011. The flightless cormorant is one of the world's rarest birds. A survey carried out by the Charles Darwin Research Station in 2004 indicated that the species has a population of about 1,500 individuals.