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Shag sat on a rock

What am I?

I belong to the cormorant family.

Where do I come from?

I’m present throughout the year. Outside the breeding season, I seldom move far from my breeding areas. I generally remain at sea during the winter; I’m very tolerant of rough conditions out there.

A bit about me

I am a goose-sized, dark, long-necked bird; like a cormorant, but smaller and not as chunky. To distinguish me from a cormorant, pay particular attention to my head, I have a slimmer bill and my head shape is different with a characteristic steep forehead and peak to the crown above my eyes. My fancy crest and green sheen feathers are only prominent during breeding season. When I’m not in breeding season, I appear browner with a pale throat.

I nest on cliffs and can be seen on rocky outlets. I don’t like to come inland, so if you think you see me on a lake or pond, it will probably not be me. Watch out for me perched on coastal rocks or banks with my wings held out. I swim low in the water and dive frequently for fish, typically commencing dives with a forward ‘leap’ to propel myself down into the sea.

Local spotlight

Localised to the western Solent and the sea off Hurst beach in the summer and Eastern Solent and Hayling bay in the autumn. Half of the world population of shag live in the UK and although there are less cormorants in the UK compared to shags, you are more likely to see a cormorant due to their distribution. My population has declined by 45% in recent years. Like all fish-eating seabirds my future depends on a sustainable supply of fish, the loss of sand eels from my usual waters is one of the problems I am currently facing.

Conservation status

I’m red listed in the UK

My name might not be listed in the Solent’s Special Protection Areas but I am still definitely important for the coastal ecosystem and form part of the waterbird assemblages which these regions are protected for.

Fun fact

All birds from the cormorant family have glands that secretes oil used for keeping the weathers waterproof. However, my gland is not efficient enough, so I have to dry them manually my holding them out in the sunshine.