My eleventh advent blog post focusses on the European Shag (Phalacrocorax arestotelis). This is a species which can be found throughout the year around the British coast, and of which there are around 27, 000 breeding pairs. The adults develop a showy mohican-style quiff of a crest in the spring, which they show off alongside their shining green colouration and emerald-coloured eyes. They are handsome bird, despite the scientific name eluding to a ‘bald raven’! (phalakros= bald, korax= the Raven). Many people often confuse the Shag with the larger cousin, the Cormorant: in contrast, the Cormorant is a good third larger, sports a chunky bill with hooked tip, blue eyes and a different facial pattern.
In the spring and summer, the breeding adults take up their places along the cliff edges around the coast; they assemble a pile of driftwood sticks, seaweed and scraps of rope into their equivalent of a ‘nest’. Pairs will incubate their few eggs (typically three) for a month or so, before supplying their prehistoric-looking progeny for another month. By early July, many of their young will have taken the plunge and headed out to sea, but these juvenile birds will often congregate into loose flocks in the summer months. Over winter, extended periods of stormy weather can take their toll on young birds: on Bardsey alone we often have at least five corpses wash up every winter. Unfortunately, like the plight of many other British seabirds, this smart species is Red listed due to recent declines in populations.