Shag

Phalacrocorax aristotelis

65-80cm

Appearance

This bird is similar to the Cormorant in many ways, but it is more slight and its hook-tipped bill is narrower; its head is smaller, the angle of the forehead leading to the crown more acute. The sexes are similar, though plumage differs across the seasons. In summer, the adult is a dark greenish-black, the green and even purple are brought to life in the right light, it has a yellow patch at the bill's base and a distinctive crest. In winter adults the yellow at the base of the bill is faded, the plumage is browner, the throat is pale, and the crest is lost. Juvenile birds are brown, without the light underparts the juvenile Cormorant has, though the throat is pale.

Habitat

Strictly a marine bird, the Shag seems to enjoy environments with turbulent seas. It breeds on rocky coasts of the region, north and west Britain and along the south coast to the Isle of Wight, where it creates nests on seaside cliffs.

Character

This bird often flies low, near to the water; its flight is faster, wings are shorter and rounder at the ends than the Cormorant's. It makes a forward leap before diving and it may be under water for 40 seconds; it uses its webbed feet to move through the water. Its not uncommon to see the Shag perched with its wings partially extended to dry.

Food

Diet includes fish, particularly sand eels, herring, cod and other inshore fish.

Breeding

Has been known to remain with the same mate, but habits vary; some change mates and some males may have more than one partner. Most commonly 3 eggs are laid, and they're incubated by both birds for about 30 days. Parents regurgitate food for the hatchlings, who fly after about 48 days, though they're not independent for several weeks after. Young are able to breed after 3 or 4 years.

Population

Can be found in the region year-long with more than 27 000 pairs in the UK and numbers in Ireland exceeding 3 000.

Observation Tips

Should be quite simple to spot at seabird colonies. Farne Islands may provide an opportunity for closer range viewing.

Voice

When in nesting colonies it utters a series of harsh grunts and clicks.
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