Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

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Shag fact file

Shag description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPelecaniformes
FamilyPhalacrocoracidae
GenusPhalacrocorax (6)

The shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) is very similar in general appearance to the cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), but is smaller and slightly slimmer (1). In breeding condition, adults develop a green gloss to the black plumage, and a black crest develops on the head (1). Outside of the breeding season, the plumage is duller and the bill is more yellow in colour (1), although there is a yellow patch at its base throughout the year (3). Juveniles have dark brown upperparts and pale underparts with a white chin (1). A variety of grunting and clicking calls are produced (1). The common name originates from the Old Norse word 'skegg' meaning beard, and refers to the crest (3).

Size
Wingspan: 95-110 cm (1)
Length: 68-78 cm (1)
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Shag biology

Like the cormorant, the shag mainly feeds on fish, but it fishes in deeper water (3) and prefers different prey species (2). It dives for fish from the surface of the water with a pronounced leap (1).

The nest is located on offshore islands, rocky stacks and cliff ledges (8). It is made of twigs and rotting seaweed, and is said to have an extremely pungent smell that increases in intensity as the decomposition of the seaweed continues (3). After hatching, the chicks stay in the nest for eight weeks (5).

Shags tend not to travel great distances, adults usually remain within 100 kilometres of the breeding area, but juveniles move up to 200 kilometres (2). Occasionally a phenomenon known as a 'wreck' occurs, when adverse weather conditions drift birds inland, where they become stranded in unusual habitats. This results in very high mortality for immature birds (2).

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Shag range

The shag is generally a coastal bird, and occurs inland less often than the cormorant. It has a wide distribution around the coastline of Britain and over Europe (2).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.

See this species on Google Earth.

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Shag habitat

Shags breed in loose colonies (1) on rocky coastal cliffs and islands (2). Nests are made in crevices, under boulders or in small caves (1).

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Shag status

The shag is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). Receives general protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Classified as a species of conservation concern by the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, although not a priority species (2). Included in the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List (medium conservation concern) (7).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Shag threats

Shags are not threatened at present; however, manmade disasters such as oil spills are potentially extremely damaging, and can result in high local mortality (8).

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Shag conservation

There is no conservation action directly targeted at this species. However, many populations occur within protected reserves, and like all wild birds, the shag is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (4).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Find out more

For more information on the shag and other bird species:

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Authentication

Information authenticated by the RSPB:
http://www.rspb.org.uk/

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References

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Mullarney, K., Svensson, L., Zetterstrom, D., & Grant, P.J. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, London.
  3. Lack, P. (1986) The Atlas of Wintering Birds in Britain and Ireland. T. & A. D. Poyser Ltd, Calton.
  4. RSPB (2003) The population status of birds in the UK
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/5_20625.pdf
  5. Greenoak, F. (1979) All the birds of the air; the names, lore and literature of British birds. Book Club Associates, London.
  6. RSPB (2003) Pers. comm.
  7. Hume, R. & Pearson, B. (1993) Seabirds. Hamlyn Limited, London.
  8. Naturenet (July 2002):
    http://www.naturenet.net/law/wcagen.html
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Image credit

Shag pair  
Shag pair

© Bernard Castelein / naturepl.com

Nature Picture Library
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Bristol
BS1 5RR
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0) 117 911 4675
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