Wild Bird Photography by Steve Oakes

Shag (Phalacrocorax aristotelis)

Above: Shag (Adult)
Above: Shag (Adult)
Below: Shag (Juvenile)
Below: Shag (Juvenile)
Below: Cormorant (Adult)
Below: Cormorant (Adult)



Distribution map

Areas marked are approximations only for use as a guide.
They are not indicative of population density

Key: Green=All year; Yellow=Summer, Blue=Winter, Red=Passage Only


Shags, like the similar cormorants, are resident UK birds. They are almost exclusively found around the coast and seldom, if ever, found on inland fresh water where cormorants are found. Rocky coasts with cliffs are preferred.

The shag has the same upright stance as the cormorant but is a noticeably smaller bird. The adult is entirely black, including the legs and beak, except for a small bright yellow patch at the base of the bill and an emerald green eye. In fact, it is a little unfair to say that the plumage is black. It looks black in poor light but when well lit it has a glossy green sheen to it. In breeding plumage the adults have a distinctive tuft of feathers above the forehead that is missing in the cormorant. Adult cormorants also have white patches, at least around the chin and throat but adult shags never have any white patches.

Juvenile birds are much paler brown with a white belly, breast and throat. Also the bill is a little paler, often even yellowish in colour. Juveniles are very similar to juvenile cormorants. The key indicators to differences are the smaller size of the shag and the steep upward sloping forehead. The cormorant and a gentle slope from the base of the upper bill to the top of the head.

In the north west, there are many coastal places to see shags. The best are probably Llanddwyn Island, South Stack or the Morfa Nefyn area of North Wales. St Bees head in Cumbria is also likely to be a good spot.

They are fairly confiding birds and don't seem too worried by the near presence of humans so once you have found a good spot to get close, you should have no trouble taking pictures.

You can see all of my photographs of these birds in the wild by clicking here.

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