Shag - Hebridean Birds
Western Isles Birds - Shags - Hebridean Birds - Western Isles Birds.

Shags breed on all exposed rocky coasts usually nesting on low ledges. Many can be seen at The Butt of Lewis.

These primeval looking birds are prolific in the Western isles. Here are a few photographs and info about the shags in the western isles.
Dunlin -  Western Isles
Photo Gallery  - Shags  Images
Bird Overview - Shag
Cormorants & Shags
Latin name
Phalacrocorax aristotelis


Similar Species
Easy to get identified incorrectly as a "cormorant" as they appear somewhat similar - the shag is slightly smaller - and has a longer neck. Shags have thinner bills - cormorants bills also seem to be set into their skulls and thicker necks.

Shags have a thin - snake -like neck and the bill is thin enough (you could imagine) to "snap off" making a sharp angle to the forehead. The shags bill is black with yellow gape. The plumage is black with a greenish gloss and this bird is sometimes called the "green cormorant". In breeding season this bird has a forward-curved crest on its head. The sexes are very similar looking. The young birds are brown without the gloss.

Their flight is like that of the cormorant except that their wings beat more rapidly - their neck is fully extended and they hug the sea closely.

65 - 80 cm 25 - 31ins - 1850 g. (Sometimes mistaken for a cormorant - but a cormorant is larger being 90cm/2.5kg)
More of a deep water bird than the cormorant - sometimes solitary - however flocks of several hundred shags gather together to take advantage of a large shoal of fish. Mainly rocky coasts and harbours. Rare on inland waters.
Fish - mainly sand eels and herrings. Occasionally crustacea and molluscs.
Grunts and croaks - very rasping - during the breeding season. Rest of the time the shags are silent - particularly in The Winter.
The shags - seen on the Western Isles - these birds are early breeders - nesting being usually timed such that their young are in the nest when most sand eels are available in May and June - but occasionally nests are found in the winter.

Fresh material is added to the nest throughout the breeding season. The shag builds its nest out of vegetation such as seaweed and dead stems of plants.

The long fledgling period of 55 days is followed by a further 4 weeks during which the adults still feed and tend the young. The female chicks lose their voice after 5 weeks and are only able to hiss and click. There are 305 eggs and Incubation is 30days - with birds fledging at 55 days.

Misc. Info
Shags take 4 years to mature and once adult have a high life expectancy. Young birds are prone to disorientation in adverse weather and sometimes end up inland in large numbers. Such influxes are called "wrecks".


Differences between shag and cormorant

How to Tell a Cormorant from a Shag

As I am a novice I find that it can be difficult sometimes to ascertain whether the bird I am looking at actually a shag or a cormorant. I have recently gleaned the following info from. persons with more experience than myself.

Patch at Base of Bill
Cormorants have a yellowish patch at the base of the bill which is greyish. Shags have a washed out dull yellowish bill. Cormorants have heavier bills

Head Shape
Another pointer is the head shape although this can vary of course in what the bird is doing. Shags have a peaked crown compared to flat one of Cormorant

Shags produce distinctive shaggy crests on their heads during breeding season, while cormorants do not.

Shags generally are smaller than cormorants, with narrower beaks and leaner bodies

The shags normal flight is low, close to sea, while the Cormorant often flies high..

Buzzard - Western Isles
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