• Name: Eurpoean Shag | Phalacrocorax aristotelis
  • Size: 90-105cm wingspan
  • Life span: 12-15 years  
  • Diet: Shags eat a wide range of fish but their commonest prey is the Sand eel.
  • Reproduction: Shags are monogamous, with pair bonds often reuniting in subsequent years; females can lay 2-6 eggs.  Females lay 3-4 pale blue eggs and incubation lasts about one month, shared by both adults.
  • When to see: Throughout the year (Scilly is nationally important for breeding Shags)
  • Where to see: Shags do not venture inland, preferring to live coastally (unlike the Cormorant); here in Scilly you will find them around the coast on rocky outcrops on both our inhabited and uninhabited Islands, i.e. Samson | Little Smith, St Agnes | Droppy  Nose Point, Bryher in Scilly. 
  • Conservation status: ICUN Redlist | Least Concern (Global).  Birds of Conservation Concern 4 | Red (UK)
  • Population Trend: Declining
  • Threats:  Human activity - disturbance, Climate change, changes in weather patterns and diminishing food stocks.
  • Fun Fact: The European shag is one of the deepest divers among the Cormorant family. Using depth gauges, European shags have been shown to dive to at least 45m (148 ft).  Additionally the European shag's tail has 12 feathers, the Cormorant's 14 feathers.

Description:  Shags are goose-sized, apparently black, long-necked birds similar to Cormorants but smaller and generally slimmer with a rounded forehead.  In reality their feathers have a green/emerald sheen to match their brilliant green eyes. 

During the breeding season adults can also be seen with a prominent crest on their head.  They are often seen in their characteristic pose with wings outstretched to dry whilst perched on a rock.

In UK coastal waters, dive times are typically around 20 to 45 seconds, with a recovery time of around 15 seconds between dives; this is consistent with aerobic diving, i.e. the bird depends on the oxygen in its lungs and dissolved in its bloodstream during the dive. When they dive, they jump out of the water first to give extra impetus to the dive.

The UK holds just over 31% of the entire worlds Shag population with Scilly recording the largest population in terms of nesting pairs at more than double other areas in the UK

They can often be confused with the larger, Cormorant, which is here in much lower numbers.

Want to know more?  Check out our latest Seabird Monitoring & Research Technical Report for the most up to date information about how this charismatic species is fairing in Scilly.


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With thanks to Ed Marshall for the Shag image