Cormorants & Shags

These are coastal birds and at first glance they look very similar. But look a bit closer and with a few hints you'll be able to tell the difference easily. We see these two species on nearly every trip, dotted along the coastline. The curious thing about these birds is that they don't have waterproof feathers so they frequently need to come back to land to dry off. This means they never stray too far from the coast for fear of becoming waterlogged. We often see them standing on the rocks with their wings out stretched or flapping around to dry. Identification:

  • Cormorants (wingspan 80- 100cm) are larger than Shags (wingspan 65- 80cm).

  • In the breeding season male Cormorants have a patch of white feathers on the face whereas male Shags have a tuft of feathers on top of the head.

  • Juvenile Cormorants are brown with a pale front whereas juvenile Shags are pale brown.

  • Adult birds of both species are black.

Distribution: Both are seen on rocky coasts and estuaries. However the Cormorant is increasingly seen on inland lakes and rivers. The Shag is more at home on rough seas than the Cormorant and is seen out at sea more often than the Cormorant. Conservation: A recent loss of sand eels due to changing sea temperatures presents a threat to Shags as that is what they mainly feed on. As Cormorants move further inland they are increasingly brought into contact with conflict with commercial fishing interests so the Government has allowed some control in numbers. Like all fish eating seabirds the future of the Cormorant and the Shag depends on a sustainable supply of fish.

*All photos are taken by Orca Sea Safaris and/or their customers.